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The Eagle Chronicles 18: The Eagle Crowned

Title: The Eagle Crowned
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 7943
Summary Steven learns about his past the hard way.
Notes: This was the second installment in the original trilogy I wrote in high school following "The Fighting Eagle". The third part will be next. If you've been reading from the beginning, you know this is set in an alternate universe to ours as I fiddled with British history to create Steven's family history. I will admit I threw alot into this one but I think it works. Please enjoy!


18 The Eagle Crowned


August 1948

Steven Taylor was packing his suitcase when his expectant cousin Sheila came in the room. "I don't believe you! You have a chance to be in the Olympics and you're going to London!"

"You know I told Victoria I'd move to London when I could. So what if I'm not on the team? It doesn't matter."

"But, Steven, they're less than a week away!"

Steven's friend Fitz yelled up to him. "Hey, Steven! You've got an hour till the train leaves!"

"Thanks, Fitz!" Fitz, whose real name was John Fitzgerald, had been Steven's best friend ever since they were kids. He had helped Steven the most when he was recovering from his war injuries.

Steven's Aunt Stephanie came into his room. "Sheila, I'd like to talk to Steven alone."

"Yes, Mom. See you downstairs, Steven."

"What's the matter, Steph? If it's my leaving, it's not like you'll never see me again. It's only London."

"Oh, no, it's not that. Your uncle left this for you. I was going to give it to you on your birthday, but since you're moving away, I decided now was the time."

"It's Uncle John's ring! I remember him wearing it."

"It's your family crest. All the upper-class English families have them. You come from a well-known family there."

"I remember grand houses and ladies wearing lots of jewelry."

"Enjoy yourself, Steven, but be careful."

"I'll be okay, Steph, and I'll write."

"I'm sure you will be. Say hello to Victoria for me and give her my love."

"I will." He kissed her.

Steven walked to the car where Fitz was waiting to take him to the station. "Ready?" asked Fitz.

"As ready as I'll ever be."

"We won't forget you because you're across the ocean, you know."

"Guess you're right."

"Of course I am. Have I ever been wrong?"

"Well..."

"Forget it."

When they arrived at the station, they had a few minutes before the train departed. "Bye, Fitz. Thanks for all your help. And don't be a stranger!" he yelled as the train pulled away.

"So long, kid."

*****************************************

Steven arrived in London late that evening. He walked up the front steps to Victoria's house and rang the bell. She answered it. "Hello, kid."

"Steven, you made it! Come in!"

"How's life treated you?"

"I'm okay. Winston's at Parliament, but he should be coming back soon."

"I missed you, Vickie."

"I missed you, too. You're the only one I let call me that."

"It's an honor not taken lightly."

"Flatterer. Here comes Winston. Let's surprise him. Hide behind the door. No, wait, I've got a better idea. Sit in his favorite chair. Go on, he's almost here."

Winston Churchill walked up the steps to his home. Victoria went to greet him. "Hello, Victoria. I've had a busy day. All I want is a cup of tea and the evening paper which I'll read in my--" He faced his chair and saw smoke rising.

He walked over an as he came alongside, Steven spoke. "Hello, Winston. How are you this fine day?"

"Steven, why didn't you tell us you were coming?"

"Just ask my friends and they'll tell you I like surprises."

"You're looking very well. Rumor has it that you were one of the top choices for the United States track team for the Olympics."

"Yeah. My cousin was upset with me for leaving."

"Leaving?"

"I've moved to London so I can't be on the U.S. team."

"You mean you're going to be living in London permanently?" asked Victoria.

"Yes. I'm living in the flat I had during the war."

They sat and talked all evening. Steven told them that he had become interested in track during his rehabilitation for his war wounds. As he was leaving, Winston saw his ring. "Where id you get that? The crest looks familiar, but I can't place it."

"It was my uncle's. My aunt gave it to me before I left."

Steven took a cab to his apartment in Picadilly. It had been kept up--probably by Victoria. Everything was the way he had left it three years ago. Seeing that all was in order in the flat, he went to the garage. His red Alvis was polished to the hilt as if he were expected back.

The phone rang and Steven went to answer it. "Mr. Taylor? This is Douglas Simpson of the British track team. We just heard that you have moved to London and are eligible to participate on the home team. As a formality, we need you to try out for the team. Only if you want to, of course."

"How did you know I was here?"

"You were spotted at the airport. As for your living here now, well, we have our ways. What do you say?"

"I say 'yes'! When and where do you want the trial run?"

"If you can be at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park tomorrow morning at 11:00, we'll set up your course and time you then."

"Tomorrow at 11:00. Good-bye."

One thing Steven had forgotten to check for: the room was "bugged" and his phone was tapped. In the apartment directly above, three men listened to his conversation. "We've got him now. After he's done running in the park, we'll nab him. That way he won't be missed." The young, well-dressed man looked at the two others and smiled a very evil smile.

*********************************************************

The next morning Steven took the tube to Speaker's Corner where he was met by Douglas Simpson. "We've marked a route for you with red flags and there are men stationed along the way to time you for each distance. Good luck."

Steven thanked him, did a few stretches, and began to run. The day was ideal for it. There were quite a few people visiting the park and some watched him. One man in particular followed him. When he was done, Simpson thanked him and saaid he would call with the time they would send the car to pick him up.

As Steven walked back to the tube station, the young man approached him. "Excuse me, Mr. Taylor? You are Mr. Taylor, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am," Steven answered, bewildered.

"I recognized you running through the park. May I have your autograph?"

"Certainly." As Steven was signing the paper handed to him, he was unaware of the other man coming up behind him.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Taylor."

"That's quite all right. No prob--" The second man hit him on the head with the butt of a revolver.

"Clean job," said the man who had wanted the autograph. "Help me put him in the car." They bundled Steven in and drove off.

******************************************

Steven came to and discovered his hands and feet were tied. He glanced around the room. There were two cots, a small table, and a loose lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. There were bars on the window. A key turned in the lock and a man walked through the door with a plastic pitcher of water and matching cup. He was a large man--living proof of Darwin's theory. He put the items down on the table, cut Steven's ropes and left, locking the door behind him. Steven poured himself some water and, as he did so, the door opened. It was the well-dressed man from the park. Steven could now see that he was about 5'8" with light brown hair and brown eyes.

"I hope you are feeling well after your ordeal."

"Yeah, I'm fine. What am I doing here?"

"I thought you'd ask that question. I can't tell you just yet. When I come back you'll have some company and maybe I'll answer it then." He smiled and left.

Steven walked over to the window. The bars, even though rusted, were buried too deep in the cement to even bother trying to pry them out. He watched as the car drove away then tried to get his bearings from any landmarks he could spot. He guessed he was somewhere in the East End along the Thames. He mused over any possible reasons for his being there. The only logical conclusion he could come up with was that the man was against his joining the British Olympic team.

********************************************

As Steven was staring out his window, his sister Sarah was waiting at Heathrow Airport. In her hand she held a telegram which read:

Sarah Taylor. Your brother has been in a terrible accident. I feel that your presence will make him better. Please come to London as soon as possible. You will be met at the airport. A friend.

She had began to pack as soon as she had read it. She had a little problem trying to get a flight, but once she told them who she was and why she was going, it was easy.

A well-dressed man approached her outside the terminal. "Excuse me, are you Miss Taylor?"

"Yes, I am."

"I'll take you to your brother. Let me get your bags."

A black Bentley pulled up and they stepped inside. Sarah felt very out of place. The young man was very polite and tried to engage her in conversation. She said a few words and nodded her head, but she was too preoccupied to watch where they were going.

************************************************

Steven was lying on the cot when he heard a door slam then two sets of footsteps coming up the stairs. The well-dressed man opened the door and ushered Sarah into the room. "I told you, Mr. Taylor, that you would have company when I returned." With that, he left and locked the door behind him.

"Sarah, how did you get here?"

"I got a telegram saying that you had been in an accident and that I should come to London. He picked me up at the airport and drove me here. What does he want?"

"I have no idea. Here, sit down. Do you want some water?"

Sarah took the glass gratefully. "Why is he doing this?"

"It could be that he doesn't want me competing on the British team."

"Are you sure it's not because of the Eagle?" The Eagle had been Steven's sobriquet when he was a thief.

"No, I'm sure it's not that," he answered. "I haven't used that since the war." He got up and walked to the window. "C'mere, Sarah, I've got an idea. We're going to escape."

"What?"

"It's simple. There's only one guard so it should be easy. When we get down, I'll distract him and you run. Go straight into the City, flag a taxi, and ask him to take you to this address." He slipped her a piece of paper. "Are you ready?"

"Who's address is this?"

"Victoria's. Once you get going, don't stop. Let me pick the lock. Be quiet on the way down." The lock clicked. "Okay, let's go."

They walked slowly down the stairs, treading on the sides as not to make any noise. The guard was eating with his back to the door. Steven motioned for Sarah to go. After a slight hesitation, she ran. Now that Sarah was gone, he turned to face the guard. "Hey, Handsome!" The guard turned to see Steven smiling at him. He stood and Steven saw how tall he was. The guard reached up his sleeve and pulled out a knife. "How 'bout making this a bit more even, Gargantua? Got another knife?"

Gargantua smiled and threw a knife. Steven caught it by the hilt. Gargantua advanced towards Steven and soon had him backed against a wall. He thrust his knife forward, but Steven side-stepped as it grazed his shoulder. Steven then moved to the center of the room. Angry, Gargantua lunged. Steven had never been so scared as he saw that bulk rushing towards him. He threw his knife. Gargantua fell to the floor as the projectile hit its mark. Steven ripped part of Gargantua's shirt and wrapped it about his arm before leaving the building.

*************************************************

While Steven was walking, Sarah reached Victoria's house. She knocked furiously on the door until Victoria answered it. "Why, Sarah, what are you doing in England?"

"Steven and I were kidnapped." She told Victoria the whole story.

"Would you recognize this well-dressed man if you saw him again?"

"Yes, no doubt about it."

They heard the door open. "It's probably Winston," said Victoria. "I'll go check."

Before she got up, a voice said, "It's not Winston, it's only me." Steven walked into the room.

"Steven! Come in and sit down." Victoria helped him to a chair. "You're hurt."

"Knife scratch. The bleeding's stopped, but it needs to be cleaned."

"Why were you so long? I thought you were just going to distract him," Sarah said as Victoria left the room.

"He wanted a fight. I also walked home because I needed to think."

Victoria returned with some gauze and antiseptic for the wound. "Did you come to any conclusions?"

"None," Steven winced as she cleaned, "at all."

"It must be important, or why would they bring Sarah over from the States?"

"When I first realized it was a kidnapping, I thought they wanted Steven to pull a job."

Victoria finished bandaging Steven's arm. "Let me get you something to eat. Sandwiches?"

"Sandwiches would be fine, Vic."

"Let me help you."

"Thank you, Sarah."

Steven listened to the two girls laughing and talking in the kitchen as if nothing had happened. It was a nice sound. Steven was on the brink of sleep when they returned.

"Hey, Steven! Time to eat!"

They heard the front door close. "Now this has to be Winston." Steven got up and walked into the hallway. "Hello, sir."

"Hello, Steven. How was your day?"

"Quite eventful."

"That's the understatement of the year," said Sarah.

"Excuse me, Winston. Allow me to introduce my sister, Sarah. Sarah, this is Sir Winston Churchill."

"It's an honor to meet you, sir."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Sarah. I've heard so much about you. It's nice to meet someone from Steven's family."

Victoria handed Winston a cup of tea. "Steven has quite a tale to tell you."

When Winston had sat down, Steven told him his story. "I still have no idea why. I've wracked my brain trying to think of a motive, but I can't."

"Have you considered everything possible?"

"Everything."

"I think it would be best if you stayed here instead of going back to your flat. They've probably discovered you've escaped by now and have men watching the building. Victoria can show you the spare rooms."

"Thank you, sir."

Victoria led them up the stairs. "Don't worry about him, he's got something on his mind, I can tell. We'll work something out in the morning. Good night."

She made her way back downstairs. Winston was smoking a cigar and going through papers from his briefcase. He looked up. "Good. You're back. That ring of Steven's looked very familiar so today, during some free time, I did some research. I was satisfied with what I found, but this kidnapping attempt has brought on new problems." He paused to put his cigar into the ashtray. "I have some suspicions about who kidnapped them and why, but I can't say just yet. If I'm wrong, I make a fool of myself, but if I'm correct, it will be the beginning of a new life for some and a scandal for others. I must be very careful. If this weren't such a touchy subject, you could be sure I would tell you."

"I understand." A half hour later, Victoria was in bed sleeping comfortable, but wondering what Winston had discovered.

*************************************************

Victoria was awakened the next morning by the sound of a door slamming. She looked at her clock and saw that it was 9:00. She changed and went downstairs to make some breakfast. She put the kettle on for tea and put read in the toaster. As she sat down to eat, Steven came in. "Hungry?"

"Don't bother. I'll get it myself."

The phone rang and Victoria answered it. "It's for you."

Steven took the receiver from Victoria. "Yes, this is Steven Taylor. How did you know I was here? Oh, right 'you have ways.' Today? Oh, my God, I totally forgot! You'll send a car? Thanks."

"What was that all about?"

"That was the Olympics Committee. The Games start tomorrow and they're sending a car in an hour. Gotta pack. I'll eat when I'm done." Steven ran up the stairs past Sarah, who was on her way down.

She walked into the kitchen. "What's with him?"

"The Olympic Committee is sending a car to pick him up. The Games start tomorrow, but he's got to get settled in today."

"That's a bit fast, isn't it?"

"Who knows? Want some breakfast?"

Near an hour later, Steven came running down the stairs. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of toast. "Are you people deaf? Why didn't you tell me the car was here?"

"We didn't know. We'll be there tomorrow to wish you luck."

"Yeah. See you then."

****************************************************

The car dropped Steven off at the hotel where the athletes were staying. He signed in at the desk. "Mr. Taylor. You are in Room 320. Your roommate is Jeffrey Williams, an American." Steven thanked him and went upstairs. He and Jeff had been the two best runners on the U.S. team. They were also the pranksters of the group. Steven reached the room and unlocked the door. Jeff had already been there, his clothes were spread out on one of the beds. Steven heard voices and hid in the bathroom.

"Yeah, I'm roomin' with some Englishman. They didn't say who." That was Jeff.

"We're goin' down to the bar for a drink. Wanna join us?"

"I'll meet you down there."

"Whatever you say, pal."

Jeff opened the door and heard the shower running. He looked over at the other bed and saw a suitcase. His roommate had arrived. Steven heard him come in and was ready to put on an act. He turned off the shower. "Is someone out there?" he asked in his broadest Irish brogue.

"Yeah, your roommate."

"American, by your voice. I like Americans. My sister lives there." Steven came out of the bathroom with a towel over his head. "Name's Sean Thomas."

"Jeff Williams. You know, I was expecting some stuck-up English snob. What do I get? An Irishman who's partial to Americans."

"Well, in actuality, you've got an American posing as an Englishman posing as an Irishman." With that, Steven removed the towel and resumed his normal voice. "How've you been, Jeff?"

Jeff was flabbergasted. "Wha'? Steven! What are you doing here?"

"I'm on the British track team. I came over, got a phone call, and here I am."

"This is gonna be great! How about a 'Great Return' prank?"

"What do you have in mind?"

"It's simple. I'm going to the bar downstairs. I'll go down first and tell they guys I invited my roomie. I'll get them looking the other way, then you come in, talking in your brogue. They'll flip!"

"That's probably the best you've ever come up with. See you down there."

"Give me a few minutes then come down."

Steven laughed. "Sure thing. Don't ruin it by acting as if something were going on."

"You know me."

"Yeah, that's why I said it."

Jeff went down to the bar, chuckling to himself. Before he walked into the bar, he paused to compose himself. "Hi, guys. Sorry I'm late."

"S'all right. What'll ya have?"

"A beer would be fine. My roomie wondered if he could join us. I said sure." His audience made faces. "He's okay. He's Irish and likes Americans."

"I guess so. He can't be all bad."

Jeff got the team all around the bar so they wouldn't see Steven coming. "He should be down soon. His name is--"

"Sean Thomas is m'name, yanks. A mug o' Guinness, bartender."

The men turned and saw Steven. They were too surprised to say anything. "Well, what do you think?" asked Jeff. "It was Steven's idea. His brogue even fooled me."

Everyone patted Steven on the back. One asked how he was doing and he told them of how he made the British team. A porter came and announced that it was time for all athletes to go to their rooms. "It's that late already? That's hard to believe. See you tomorrow, Steven. Good luck."

"Yeah, good luck."

"Same to all of you."

The next morning Steven woke to Jeff's loud snoring. He took a shower and changed into his team uniform. He then went over to Jeff's bed and began to shake him. "C'mon, Jeff. Time to wake up."

"Wha'? Oh, it's you. What's your problem?"

"Nothing. ''Tis a fine day for runnin'. Hurry up or you'll be late."

Jeff jumped out of bed and ran for the shower. As Steven got out Jeff's uniform, the porter came with two cups of coffee. "On the house, sir."

"Thank you."

"The buses will be arriving in a quarter-hour to take you to the Games. Please inform your roommate." He left.

"Who was that?" Jeff yelled from the bathroom.

"Just the porter with coffee. The buses are coming in ten minutes. Get a move on!"

Jeff came out and down his coffee in two gulps. "We can't keep them waiting." He pulled on his uniform and combed his hair as he walked out the door. Laughing, Steven followed.

They separated at the buses. "Good luck, Jeff."

"Running against you, I need all the luck I can get."

Steven got on the bus with out-of-town teammates, walked to the back and sat down. No one joined him. He was glad as he needed time to himself.

Fifteen minutes later they reached Wembley Stadium, the main site of the Games. Steven had missed the opening ceremonies, but was entered in five track events. When he walked onto the field, few people recognized him. He did some warm-ups and was ready to start. The first event was the 400 meters and Steven was his heat then cheered Jeff on as he won his. Come the medal run, Steven held the prime position and won the gold. Jeff got silver.

With his first event under his belt, Steven relaxed. Only four more to go. He got a drink of water and did some deep breathing to get himself under control. The mile was next and he knew he had to pace himself for that. Back at the track, Jeff called out to him, "Hey, Hotshot, gonna run the four-minute mile?"

"Nah, gonna break it!"

The press gobbled up every word.

When the gun sounded, Steven was ready. He let the others set the pace, and, when they began to tire, he made his move. His final time: 3:58. He had broken the four-minute mile! After being congratulated by his teammates he went to the locker room to freshen up. His first day was over and he had two gold medals to show for it. It was almost time for the presentation of the medals so he went back outside.

"I heard King George is presenting some medals today. We may be lucky and get to see him," said someone.

"Really? Where did you hear that?"

"Oh, around."

Wow, the King, thought Steven. He had never met royalty before. He went to stand by Jeff. His friend was staring at the monarch in awe. When Steven took his place on the podium to receive his medal, cheers echoes throughout the stadium. He accepted his medal and shook hands with the king. As Steven turned to wave, a report of a gun sounded across the audience. Steven fell to the platform. Jeff ran to him. "You hit?"

"Yeah. Shoulder."

"If you hadn't moved, you'd be a goner."

"Thanks for the cheerful news."

The men from first aid came and took him inside. Winston followed. "They found the man who fired the shot. He said he was paid to do it." He paused to see Steven's reaction. It was a mix between shock and anger. "I feel we should let it out that you are dead until we find out who is trying to kill you."

"And how are you going to manage that?"

"Only you, the Royal family, and myself will know."

"The Royals?"

"Yes. The King told me, privately of course, that you can stay at Buckingham Palace."

"Buckingham Palace?"

"Is that satisfactory?"

"Yeah, it's great. But why?"

"You are a national hero. I will make the announcement and transportation will be arranged for you to the Palace."

Steven nodded and watched as Churchill walked out. This shouldn't be too bad. I've played dead before.

II


As Steven was making himself comfortable in a guest room at Buckingham Palace, there was a knock on the door. "Come in."

A young woman walked in carrying a tray of food. She was about five years younger than himself, with dark brown hair and eyes. "I thought you might be hungry." She put down the tray. "My name is Elizabeth."

"Princess Elizabeth?"

"Does that make you nervous?"

"Just surprised. Why would you be bringing me a tray of food?"

"I just wanted to meet you. Does your shoulder hurt? I could get you something for the pain."

"Not yet, anyway. The doctor did give me some painkillers earlier. Thank for asking."

"Do you have any idea who is trying to kill you or why?"

"None at all."

A young man appeared at the doorway. "Elizabeth, your mother is looking for you." He gave Steven a look of contempt and hatred.

"I'll be right there." He left. She looked at Steven. "Do get some rest, Mr. Taylor." She made to leave.

"Who was that? I think I've seen him before."

"Lord Edward Mannering, a distant cousin and my fiancé. Perhaps you recognize him from the newspapers."

"Yeah, that might be it." Elizabeth left and Steven sat on the edge of the bed. He recognized Edward Mannering from a very different situation far from the lights of social London: a dark warehouse along the Thames. He was sure Mannering was the same man. There was another knock on the door. He had an eerie suspicion. "Come in, Edward."

"So, you know my name. Anything else?"

"You're engaged to Princess Elizabeth, you gamble at the tracks, like festive parties, and want to kill me."

"You have no proof."

"There's your presence at the warehouse where Sarah and I were held prisoner."

"That doesn't connect me with the actual kidnapping or murder attempt."

"You were the man who asked for my autograph when I was knocked out in Hyde Park and it wouldn't surprise me if you were the same man who picked Sarah up at Heathrow."

"How do I fit in on the attempt on your life?"

"I don't know, but I'm sure I'll find out."

"This conversation is not to go beyond this room. If it does, you won't live to see tomorrow!" Mannering slammed the door as he walked out.

The meeting ended with the effect Steven had hoped for. Mannering just might overplay his hand, and, when he did, Steven would take full advantage. He scribbled a note for Winston and told him who the guilty party was. He also said that something would definitely happen within the next day or so and that he should be watched. Elizabeth returned and he asked if she could get it delivered for him She said she would see to it. "Dinner will be at 8:00. I will stop by to help you. Will you need anything until then?"

"No. I'll be fine." She went out the door. It was hard to picture her married to Mannering. They were of two different molds. She will make a great queen. She is so much like her father.

He woke to a knock on the door. "Steven, ready for dinner?"

"Yeah, sure. C'mon in. Let me just wash up."

She waited patiently for him, and on the way down, she let him lean on her for support. She led him to the dining room and placed him at the setting to the left of King George. Elizabeth sat across from him next to Mannering. They looked like a good couple, but he knew somehow it wouldn't last.

"How did you sleep, Mr. Taylor?" asked the king.

"Fine, sir. Never better."

"It seems that Elizabeth has been paying quite a bit of attention to you."

"Oh, Father!" She blushed.

"When she wasn't with you, she talked about you. How does that make you feel?"

"It lets me know that someone cares now that everyone else thinks I'm dead." He directed a glance at Mannering.

The king saw this. "I see you and Edward have met."

Edward answered, "Yes, we have and we talked about things we have in common."

"Oh?"

"There aren't many, but--"

Steven cut him off. "I was telling him about a mystery novel I'm reading. It's about a man who has someone trying to kill him. He knows who it is but has no proof. He's shot at and pretends to be dead so he can et his proof. A well-off family invites him to stay with them and he meets the fiancé of the eldest daughter who turns out to be the man who's trying to kill him. The fiancé threatens him that if he tells anyone, he won't live out the day."

"And?"

"That's as far as I've read."

Edward glared at him. "Seems to be an uninteresting story so far. Let me know when you finish it."

"Certainly, Teddy. You'll be the first to know."

Steven knew he was going to get a visit tonight from Teddy. Hopefully, if I have a witness, we'll be able to arrest him. The rest of the dinner passed quietly. He was asked many questions for comparisons of England and America. He told them stories of when he was in Germany.

Back in his room, Steven walked to the window. Outside, somewhere, was a detective from the C.I.D. with a telephoto-lens camera aimed at his window. Steven had a small tape recorder hidden for any conversations. He then settled down to wait with a book. Two hours later, there was a knock on the door. Steven switched on the recorder. "Come in."

Mannering came into the room. "You've gone too far, Taylor! It's time to bring things to a close!" He moved menacingly near, raising his hands.

Steven moved towards the window. "If you kill me, they'll know you're the murderer. Either way, you won't win." He glanced out the window and hoped the detective was taking pictures. He turned towards Mannering whose hands moved closer to Steven's neck. Steven moved, but not fast enough. He felt pressure build in his chest and knew that if help didn't come soon, it would be too late.

The door burst open and two constables came in. Surprised, Mannering released his grip. One of the constables handcuffed Mannering and cautioned him. The other helped Steven. He assured them that he was all right and gave them the tape of Mannering's confession. King George then entered and was told what had passed. "I cannot believe this happened. I asked you to stay here because I thought it would be safe. And now this. I am sorry."

"It's quite all right, sir. I just feel sorry for Elizabeth."

"I'm sure she'll understand." They watched the constables take Mannering away. "Why don't you get some sleep. Tomorrow I think you'll make a miraculous 'recovery'."

"I think you may be right, sir." Steven relaxed on the bed and felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He fell asleep easily and had one of the best nights that he could remember.

*******************************************

When he woke in the morning, Steven felt very refreshed. There was a knock at the door. Steven hurriedly put on a robe as Elizabeth entered. Her eyes were red and he could tell she had been crying. "I appreciate what you did, Steven, revealing Edward's true nature. I'm glad I saw it before we were married. Are you ready for breakfast?"

"Elizabeth, I want you to know I'm truly sorry."

The main topic of conversation at breakfast was Edward Mannering. "He will come up for a hearing in another week. The evidence is too strong for him to deny. Do you have any idea why he was trying to kill you?"

"No, sir. What puzzles me most is why he kidnapped my sister."

After breakfast, Steven was driven back to Winston's. He walked up the front steps and rang the doorbell. The door opened. "Yes, my I help --Steven! You're alive!"

"I hope so."

Sarah's cry brought Victoria to the door. "Oh, Steven, it's so good to see you!" She hugged him. "But why did you pretend to be dead?"

"I'm sorry about the charade, but Winston thought it best. He hoped it would lull the miscreant into a false sense of security."

"Is that what happened?" asked Sarah.

"Not really." Steven explained what happened.

"You mean it was the princess's fiancé who was trying to kill you?"

"Yeah. I got a confession out of him last night. He's going before a judge next week."

"Are you hungry?"

"No, I ate, thanks. How would you like to go to the Olympics with me?"

"I'd love to. What about you, Victoria?"

"Sounds good to me. I'll just leave a note for Winston." She wrote a message then they left.

When they reached the Games, Victoria and Sarah left to watch the gymnastics. "We know about your flair for the dramatic and our presence might give you away."

Steven walked to the track. The participants were lining up at the block. He saw Jeff in the middle lane. "C'mon, Jeff! Win one for the Gipper!"

Jeff looked around, but couldn't see him. The starter gun went off. Jeff started slowly because he was distracted, but soon picked up time. The hurdles were never Steven's strong point, even in high school. He moved closer to the finish line as the race came to a close with Jeff in first place. "Hey, tryin' to take my place?"

"Steven, I thought you were dead."

"So did everyone else. I had to find out who was trying to kill me. Got him, too."

"That's great. You gave me a chance to win a few myself."

"And that all you're gonna get. I'm comin' back tomorrow."

"You're ready to run?"

"I got shot in the arm, not the leg."

By this time the press had been informed be their respective authorities that Steven was alive, and had surrounded him. "What's this about running tomorrow, Taylor?"

Steven told them that he wanted to and that he had a doctor's permission. He also informed them that he was not allowed to give out any information regarding the arrest. Steven and Jeff walked around, taking in other events and Steven filled him in on what had happened. "I thought that stuff only happened in suspense novels."

"Apparently not. It happened to me and I can't believe it."

After saying good-bye to Victoria and Sarah, he went back with Jeff to the hotel. Jeff gave a party to celebrate Steven's return to life despite the latter's protests. "Who were those two girls I saw you with?" asked someone.

"One was my sister and the other was my girlfriend."

"You mean Churchill's ward?"

"Yeah. Gotta problem with that?"

"Nah, lucky stiff." Everybody laughed.

The party ended when the food ran out. Steven thanked Jeff for the party. "I could sleep like a rock tonight. I just hope the extra weight doesn't hold me back. I bet that's why you gave the party."

"Oh, no, Steve. Would I do that to you?" Jeff grinned.

*****************************************************

The next morning Jeff woke with a bit of a hangover. "What you need is a cold shower and some coffee." Steven picked up the phone. "Room service? I'd like a pot of fresh coffee sent to room 320. Thank you." Steven replaced the receiver. "Now for the shower." He grabbed Jeff by the arm and propped him in the shower before turning on the water.

"What the hell are you trying to do?" sputtered Jeff.

"Now that you're back among the living, it's time to walk it off. The coffee should be up soon."

Steven held Jeff up with one hand and propelled him around the room with the other. Jeff was slowly walking around by himself when the coffee arrived. "The buses will be coming soon. I brought up some breakfast rolls because you may not have time for a regular meal."

"Thanks."

"It's good to see that you are all right, sir."

Steven thanked the porter again and poured the coffee. "you'll have to take the first one black."

Jeff took a sip and looked at Steven. "I appreciate you doin' this for me. It would be easier for you to win without my running."

"It would also be unfair. You'd feel cheated out of another chance at the gold. Besides, there would be no true competition. You give me a run for the money and I don't want you left out."

Jeff laughed. "I feel better already! Pour another cup and put some sugar in it this time."

Steven went over to the window. "The buses are here. You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine."

They went downstairs and sat together for the ride, separating upon reaching the site. "See you on the track," Jeff said, back to his usual self.

Steven received a standing ovation from his teammates when he walked into the locker room. During the usual speech, Steven's thoughts began to wander back to his past. He tried to remember what his father looked like and how he acted. He was called back to the present by someone calling his name. "C'mon, mate, it's time to go."

"Oh, thanks." Steven walked to the track where the final track event, the marathon, was to begin. He glanced up the line at his opponents. At the far end, he saw Jeff wave at him.

"Hey, Steven! Good luck! I'm feeling a lot better!" With Jeff feeling better, Steven knew he definitely had to pace himself because his friend was good at distance running. He had even beat Steven in a few close matches. This was going to be a good race.

The gun sounded and the marathon began. Steven held back in the beginning as not to tire himself. The French and West German runners took the lead and set the pace. As the race dragged on, Steven saw many runners drop out. Towards the last five miles, the Frenchman and the West German began to fall back. Steven realized he was closing the space between himself and the two lead runners. Soon, he was in the lead. His arm began to throb. If this isn't over soon, the pain will be unbearable. He heard the runner behind him breathing heavily. Steven began to concentrate on the finish line ahead of him. Only a mile and a half to go. Steven felt the runner behind him get closer. He knew this was it. He mustered every ounce of strength he had and ran as fast as he could. He crossed the line first.

One of his teammates came to support him until he got his strength back. He turned to see who came in second. Jeff. He went over and shook his hand. He also asked for a drink of water. The team doctor checked his arm and put a fresh bandage on it because it had started to bleed.

Steven acknowledged the crowds as he mounted the medal stand to accept his third gold. Afterwards, Winston, Sarah, and Victoria came over. "I have something to tell you and Sarah," Winston said. "Privately."

Steven excused himself from his teammates. "What's this about?"

"When I first saw your ring, the design struck me as familiar. I did some research and learned some startling news. There are only two rings like that: yours and one in the National Museum. It belonged to King James III, whose reign ended when he was overthrown in 1924. He had expected trouble, so he entrusted his two children to his brother's care who fled to America. A couple years later, the brother returned to England to try and get support for the children. He was discovered and executed for treason. He told everyone that the children were dead."

"But they aren't."

"No, they're not."

"I'm finding this hard to believe. You mean Sarah and I are the children of a king?"

"The very same."

"Surely, there must have been other children leaving England for America at the same time?"

"None fitting the exact description except you and Sarah." Winston paused and studied Steven's surprised face. "You have a birthmark on your upper left arm, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Roll up your sleeve, please."

"Why?"

"Just roll up your sleeve." Steven did so without asking any further questions. "That, Steven, is the birthmark described as belonging to the missing heir."

"This is too hard to believe. I need time to let it sink in. Does King George know?"

"Yes. He learned the truth from Edward Mannering. It seemed that he learned about your past and wanted you out of the way so you wouldn't ruin his plans for power."

"What about the Royal Family?"

"The King will abdicate and sign a document stating that neither he nor any of his descendants will try to regain the throne. A statement will be made on the evening news."

"Our uncle must have changed our names to protect us," said Sarah. "What are our real names?"

"Your name is Anne Elizabeth Victoria Mary and your brother is James Richard William Charles, both of the Royal House of Stuart."

"It's gonna be hard to stop calling you Steven," she said.

"I can't help but think of all the etiquette we have to learn."

"I'll be happy to teach you both," Victoria said.

"We don't want to be any trouble..."

"It's no trouble. How often does one get to teach royalty?"

*************************************************

Steven and Sarah's--or James and Anne's--Lessons began as soon as possible. They learned the ranking of the nobility, how to address each, the proper greetings for foreign dignitaries, and every other aspect of protocol imaginable.

In October, a month after James' coronation, he finally had time to talk to Victoria alone. "I have something to ask you." He paused.

"Go on."

"It's hard to find the right words. Ever since I saw you in the back of that truck, and the way you acted when I had the fever..." Man, this is harder than I thought. Maybe I had better just come out and say it. "Victoria, I love you. Will you marry me?"

"Yes." She kissed him. "When can we tell everyone?"

"Why don't we just tell Sarah and Winston for a start. When the press finds out, you won't have a moment's peace. Once everything's settled, you can tell the world."

Sarah and Winston were overjoyed and asked when they planned to hold the ceremony. "I thought spring would be a good time."

"I always wanted to be a spring bride."

The months passed quickly. The people of Britain liked Steven as their king. He was kind, generous, fair, honest, and acted like a "regular bloke". When the announcement was made that he was going to marry Victoria, they were ecstatic.

Victoria's life was not made as hectic as Steven had thought. She was followed, and crowds gathered wherever she went, but when she asked them to leave, they respected her privacy and left her alone. As the day of the wedding approached, the press gathered more closely than before. "Are you nervous at all, Miss. Bond?"

"As nervous as any bride-to-be. I'm marrying the man, not the position."

The ceremony was held in St. Paul's Cathedral and Steven's family arrived from Connecticut, including new baby Jessica. Winston gave away the bride and Fitz stood as best man. They left the church in an open carriage and went through the streets of London to Buckingham Palace.

For their honeymoon, the new royal couple went to Switzerland. They were well-received at their hotel and asked to be treated like any other couple. The following day, they enjoyed the view from the lift as they went up the mountain for their first run of the morning.

****************************************************

Down on the slopes a man was waiting for them to pass overhead. The man was going to kill the British monarch because he was responsible for the death of his brother. He had only recently heard of his brother's death, having moved out of England the previous year. They were now overhead. He lifted his rifle. Roger Mannering pulled the trigger.

****************************************************

In the lift, Steven was looking in the opposite direction than Victoria. The bullet from Roger Mannering's rifle missed it's intended destination, but found another target. Steven turned to see Victoria fall slightly towards him. When he lifted her, he saw that she had been shot in the chest, close to the heart. He could tell there was no hope that she would live.

She tried to talk. He bent over to hear. "Steven...these last...few days have been...the best...of my life." She kissed him and whispered her last words. "I love you."

The lift reached its destination. Steven wiped the tears from his face and lifted Victoria from the seat. He turned to take the lift down. An attendant asked him in very broken English if anything was wrong. "No, nothing's wrong. Thanks for your concern. We'll just head back to the hotel."

The man at the desk asked Steven what was wrong with his wife. "She's just tired. Please don't disturb us."

When he reached their suite, he laid Victoria on the bed. He pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down. All the tears he had held back flowed freely. "I swear, I'm gonna find out who killed you, and I'm gonna get him!"

Steven went to the phone, called the desk, and asked the manager to come up to his suite. When the man arrived, Steven explained what happened. The manager accepted it quietly. "I am sorry, your Majesty. Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes, I need to take my wife back to England as soon as possible. I need this kept quiet."

"I will see what I can do, Monsieur."

*********************************************************

When Steven arrived in London, he had Victoria set in Palace's small chapel. The nation went into mourning. Dignitaries from Europe and America came to mourn alongside Britain's king.

After the funeral, Steven carried on with his duties as best he could. He was never really the same. Part of him had died. He knew that the someone who had killed Victoria had been trying for him. Outside, he never showed the pain he felt. The following spring, Steven knew he could no longer rule efficiently in such emotional turmoil. On April 6, 1950, King James IV abdicated the throne of England. His sister Anne ascended the following week.

After his abdication, Steven left for the Continent to see if he could cure his depression without any clinics. On his way, he said his own private good-bye to Victoria. He let go of her, but the depression lingered. He held himself to his oath to track down his wife's killer and bring him to justice.

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