October that next year was one of the colder autumns on record. Queen Julia picked out the pleated red dress she wore at her abduction and braided her curls down each shoulder. She smeared crimson lipstick across her lips. She pushed a maple leaf dangling earring into each ear and gathered the teddy bears purchased from local artisans, such as Margarita Perez Rodriguez, into an enormous brown sack. She suddenly realized what it must take to be Santa Claus as she heaved the sack over one shoulder and staggered down the stairs beneath its weight.
"All right," she announced to the men and women in black suits at the end of the stairs, "gather around so we can pray a blessing upon our outing today."
Her security team assembled at the base of the stairs while she remained a couple of stairs up, as she was too short to stand amongst them and still see them all.
"Almighty God," she started as she closed her eyes and bowed her head, "we ask that You bless this time we have with these children. Help us to show them Your love for them. Protect us all, Lord, so that we may proclaim Your love without fear or apprehension. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, and we love You, God. Amen."
"Amen," each security member raised his or her head.
"Here we go!" Queen Julia pumped her fist in the air with excitement and started down the remainder of the stairs. The security team came after her and they assembled into a motorcade to drive to the local orphanage as stealthily as possible. She smiled in anticipation as she remembered all the children in the orphanage and the shelter she met during her last visit. Mrs. Vanzin promised to get all the children at the shelter to the orphanage to see her.
Her reunion with the children was beautiful. She was ambushed with embraces and kisses the moment she entered the orphanage. It dawned on her that although the children knew she came with presents, their statements to her revolved around how excited they were that she came to see them and what joy they had when she returned to the palace last year.
"Were you scared?" asked Daisy.
"Yes, I sure was."
"How did you get back?" Avgust piped up.
"That is a pretty long story."
"Do you like apple pie?" Tatiana pulled at her skirt.
"Why, yes I do."
"So pleased to see you, Your Majesty," Mrs. Vanzin received her in an affectionate embrace. "I am so sorry if we contributed to your abduction in any manner."
"Please, Julia. And you did absolutely nothing wrong. I made the choice to risk myself. Mr. Vanzin has returned since then, has he not?"
Mrs. Vanzin released her and took her hands. "Oh, yes. He returned in December, after we were able to contact him and explain what happened."
"Good," Julia smiled. She reached down into the brown sack she had carried in with her and extracted a blonde teddy bear. "We have gifts for each of you," she announced. "There are teddy bears and other sundries. Come, there are enough for everyone!"
The children came and sorted out the presents. Queen Julia savored some spiced apple pie given to her as she smiled at the children and their antics.
After a couple hours, she returned to the palace with her motorcade. There was a stack of articulated concerns of the counts and countess of each province to examine and consider.
She assembled the papers and seated herself on the cushioned swing beneath the color splashed maples. The crisp autumn wind rattled the brittle leaves and sent some adrift to the earth. She watched a robin perch in a maple and peer down at her with curiosity. It launched into the sky at the approaching crunches of shoes.
She dropped her eyes to see King Richard running in her direction wearing red sneakers, black shorts, an orange tee shirt, and a brown beanie. He approached with a warm smile and slowed to a stop.
She stared. "What are you doing?"
"Going for a run," he answered as his smile stretched even wider.
The glass door slid open and Jesse came outside with a bottle of fruit punch Gatorade. He pitched it to the King, who snatched it out of the air and unstopped it with his teeth to drink.
"Have you told her?" Jesse asked.
"Not yet," King Richard said as he stopped sucking down the sports drink. He peered down at his sister and said, "Apparently, I have been completely rid of cancer."
"Really?" she leapt up and almost dropped the stack of concerns. "When did you learn this?!"
"When I visited the hospital this morning. You were gone, so I waited until you came back."
"Richard," she cried with a smile, "I could squeeze you to death out of happiness right now, but I won't because you're drenched in sweat!"
He released his thunderous laughter and leaned down to stretch his back. He straightened and said to his attendant, "Let me race you to the bench in the middle of the courtyard and back."
"Come on, Jess. You could have beaten me this last year, but I imagine you can't now!"
"We shall see," Jesse unbuttoned his coat and stretched each leg out as he approached the king at his side. He leaned down with his palm on one knee and exchanged a smile with King Richard.
"Get ready," Julia eyed their position with a spark in her eye and made sure neither was ahead of the other. "Get set," she watched them lean down a little more. "Go!"
The two men sprinted across the patio and disappeared down the trails. Queen Julia shook her head and smiled at the laughter that came out of the woods and started making suppositions about who would return first.
Soon, the King and his attendant burst into view again. King Richard was in a scarce lead, and he sent the occasional glance over one shoulder to make sure that never changed. He skittered to a stop about a moment before Jesse did, then reached out to shake the man's hand with a satisfied smile.
"Good run," he said.
"I am proud to be beaten by a man who has recovered from lymphoma," Jesse answered when he accepted his grip and gave it a firm shake. "There may not be a worthier opponent."
"I love you," Queen Julia pointed to her brother, "but I never want to see you in shorts again."
"We shall see about that," he pointed back to her. "When you're done with those concerns, start making plans to adopt those children you mentioned last year."
She smiled and watched him slap Jesse on the shoulder as they both returned to the library. Her heart pattered with excitement with all her adventures to come.