They moved into the gloom of the forest and onto a little-used path. Alec looked down at a nudge from his new charge.
“The lady story please.”
“You want to know why she’s scared and sad, yes?”
“The Lady Mellisande is the valued and indulged only child of Lord Humphrey of Wolfgrove.”
“Interesting choice of words Alec.”
“I’d like to say she’s beloved or treasured, but I’m not sure His Lordship is capable. His only love is power.”
The child shifted slightly.
“Yes, I thought you might have some experience of that, but your story can come later.”
“If that’s what you want. Anyway, His Lordship has kept his prize bargaining card away from court since just before her mother died. She hasn’t been near the King’s Circle since she was about fifteen.”
“That would be ten years or more if I’m remembering right.”
“You are. His Lordship prefers to keep her distant from, and I believe relatively innocent of, the games he plays with her dowry and eventual inheritance. He dangles the carrot, makes some political gain, then finds a way to break the contract. Her Ladyship has no idea how many times she’s been nearly married off to this Lord or that Ambassador.”
The child entered the conversation, “You make The Lady sound like a horse or something.”
“Her father probably looks at her in the same light as a particularly fine brood mare.”
“I don’t like him.”
“Not many people do kid, and his antics got to the stage where they annoyed the king, who is an even more ruthless, and frankly rather better, strategist than Lord Humphrey.”
“Oh this should get fun.”
“Hush Nathan. His Lordship was invited to a private dinner with His Majesty, and an offer made of one of the most powerful dukes in the kingdom as a husband to the absent lady. A duke who happened to be the king’s cousin, and conveniently also from court at the time. Knowing this, and confident he’d be able to find a way to benefit from, then break the agreement on the duke’s return, His Lordship signed the contract. They then proceeded to the celebration and things got a little hazy. He woke the next morning to discover his daughter had been wed by proxy to a man he’d never met, and there was no wriggling out of it.”
“He raised merry hell until the king told him to go home and prepare Her Ladyship for her new position in life. He returned to the castle in high dudgeon and was rather brutal in how he broke the news to Her Ladyship. She believes she’s wed to some sinister figure who has yet to show any interest in claiming her, but may swoop at any moment and carry her off to a bleak, bare fort in the harsh and barren North.”
“In all, it’s been six months and she has no idea what her future holds. Of course her father’s no help. He, or someone, has intercepted a number of notes and gifts from His Grace, so Her Ladyship believes her new husband to be completely uninterested in, or oblivious to, his bride at best, and actively resenting her at worst.”
“Poor Lady. She trusts you though. She likes being near you, it makes her feel safe.”
Alec started, “Kid, it’s very bad manners to riffle about in someone’s thoughts and feelings without their permission.”
“I wasn’t looking on purpose, she’s just really loud.”
“I hope you understand what he just said Captain, because that made no sense to me, beyond Lady High-and-Mighty being sweet on you.”
“Not funny Nathan and I did. It shows the kid has some training in his talent, and could do with more to improve his shielding.”
“Again, no idea what was just said. Do you have a name kid?”
The pale little face scrunched up, “It’s a bad name. When people say it, bad things happen and it hurts. I don’t like it.”
“Okay, but we can’t keep calling you ‘kid’, is there something you’d like to be called?”
“I like Kid.”
“Let it go Nathan, ‘Kid’ is just fine if that’s what he wants for now.”
The group lapsed into a comfortable silence until the horses moved into a pretty clearing, complete with running brook and sturdy cottage with garden. A women stood among the herbs and vegetables, waiting for them.
“What sort of little lost bird have you brought me this time?”
Kid curled back against Alec, “Not a bird, I’m a kid.”
Nathan laughed and dismounted, moving to lift Kid down but going to hold the horse’s head when the child refused to be lifted. Alec swung out of the saddle then reached up an arm. Kid launched himself into Alec’s chest and clung like a limpet.
Alec held the child close as he walked slowly and easily towards the healer, “Good evening Nora, this is Kid, as he prefers to be called, and he stinks.”
Kid bolted upright in outrage, “I do not!”
“Kid, after the bats, we all do.”
Kid was slightly mollified by this point, but remained upright.
Nora was now close enough to get a clear view of him. Her eyebrows shot up and she looked at the men in clear demand for an explanation. Alec nodded for Nathan to do the talking. He was still carrying a scared child with magic, and wanted to focus on bringing him back to calm.
“See, this is why she likes you. And I’m not prying, you’re being loud too now.”
Nora looked over from her discussion with Nathan, Alec nodded, “He’s Talented, and partially trained. If he feels like telling any of us more, he will in his own good time. Isn’t that right kid.”
That earned him a small smile and a grubby head on his shoulder.
“He’d be best staying with you from the look of it.”
“Nora, there is no way in five hells I’m taking a magically talented child with this colouring into the bear pit His Lordship calls home.”
“Why is my colour bad?”
“It’s not. What it is, is very unusual, and will probably lead some people to think that you’re related to some extremely powerful and important other people and then you’ll be the one His Lordship wants to trade like a horse.”
“Maybe me and The Lady can hide together and we can both be safe.”
Nathan cocked his head to one side, “That’s actually not a bad idea.”
“I’ll take it under advisement but we can’t do anything about it right now. What we can do is get Kid some food, a bath and a good place to rest.”
Nora led the way indoors.