The conversation was interrupted by the reappearance of Violetta, alone this time.
“Oh I’m so glad you’re still here, I wanted to talk to you without Stephen.”
Sophia and Connor eyed her with foreboding.
“You see, I really want one of those dresses you’re making for the other girls. It will be so much fun to be all matching with them.”
She plumped down on the seat Michael had just vacated, “And I was thinking it would be even more fun if you could make one for that girl who’s going to be my head lady in waiting so we’ll match even more.”
Connor bit, “Which girl are you referring to?”
“Oh, you know, that one we went out and had tea with a while ago. They had very pretty gardens. We could have completely matching dresses, just with me in a tiara and everyone would know she’s my official best friend.”
Sophia breathed through her nose, “And the lady’s name?”
“Oh, I can’t remember. Is it important? Sally or Sarah or something.”
Sophia fixed Violetta with her mother’s ‘no more playing around’ look.
“I’m afraid that will not be possible. If I make you a dress for the Overlord’s ball, Stephen will be very upset.”
“Oh but we don’t need to tell him, it can be a surprise.”
Sophia lifted an eyebrow, Violetta stuttered into silence.
“You are referring to the future king of Lillia. As his queen you must always support him and never go behind his back. It is simply not acceptable behaviour.”
“No buts. As Prince Stephen’s fiancee, you must put the people of Lillia first, the crown second and yourself last. That means you need to think through all your actions, very carefully and don’t keep secrets.”
“Well that’s no fun.”
Connor frowned at her, “Is that all you care about? Fun?”
She tried her most winsome smile on him, “Well…”
He stood, “You are not getting a dress and you need to start paying attention to your responsibilities. I hope to find you slightly more suited to your chosen position when we meet at the Overcourt. If you aren’t I doubt you’ll be there long.”
He turned to Sophia, holding out one arm. She laid her hand on it and they left the room, Acron trotting behind.
Sophia stopped just out of sight and darted back to check on Violetta’s reaction. She was sitting where they’d left her, pouting like a three-year-old. As Sophia watched, she flounced up and stomped from the room, no doubt to go and complain to Stephen.
Sophia rejoined Connor, “People want and expect me to spend the rest of my life running around, cleaning up her messes? No, I’m not even going to apologise for it, simply, and absolutely no.”
Connor grinned, “Just as well it was only her in the room. You sounded like a queen in there and exited like an empress.”
The next morning they were in the spare sitting room Sophia had been allocated for her task, packing their various odds and ends while a positive parade of visitors came by.
The first was Michael, jubilant, “I spoke to her, and you’re to tell the world she’s not interested in anyone but me.”
Sophia laughed and hugged him, watching as he near-skipped from the room.
“Am I allowed to know who it is now?”
“I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough.”
The next visitor was the queen. She took both Sophia’s hands in hers and begged her to find the Lady Sophia and convince her to come back to them.
Sophia swallowed her hurt, “Please forgive my bluntness Your Majesty, but what will you do if she doesn’t return?”
Connor put in, “She’s trained to be a queen and a diplomat. Every royal family from here to Astra’s going to want to woo her.”
“But this is her home.”
Sophia gently replied, “What if she’s decided it’s time to leave home?”
The queen sighed, “I wonder if your parents, I mean her parents would accept the charge of educating another future queen.”
“Oh dear, I flubbed it. How on earth could you think I wouldn’t recognise the daughter I never had? It broke my heart to see you in the receiving room, pretending to be a stranger.”
Sophia choked back a sob and the queen pulled her into a hug.
“Much as I hate it, Connor is right. You deserve to be more than a spoiled child’s shadow. Can you tell me what you are doing?”
The explanation took a while, and when Sophia ended her story (still carefully edited), she was pulled into another hug.
“I am so proud of you. I could just about murder Stephen of course, but I am so proud. Write to me when you can and I look forward to seeing you both at midsummer.”
She turned to Connor, “Take good care of my little girl.”
Connor bowed, “I will Your Majesty.”
She patted his cheek, “You’re a good boy.”
One last hug and she was gone, leaving Sophia slightly tearful and lost for words.
Next in the door was Stephen, all stiff affront.
“I am told you were unpardonably rude to my fiancee yesterday.”
Sophia raised her eyebrows, “I merely re-stated my concern with the appropriateness of my making a dress for her and suggested that going behind your back to do so was not a good idea.”
Connor waded in, “She came back to try and talk Anne here into making a dress without your knowledge, she thought it would be fun.”
“In fact, she thought it would be even more fun if we tracked down Sophia, you know, the friend you’ve had all your life who you ditched like yesterday’s fish, and made a matching dress for her.”
“Really Stephen, I support your wish to marry the girl you love, but you really need to do something about her behaviour. She’s going to make a terrible queen if you don’t do something.”
“Has accepted a diplomatic position at the Overcourt. She’s not going to tidy up your mess my friend, this one is completely up to you.”
Stephen looked between the two of them, goggling like a fish.
Connor crossed his arms.
“So she’s not coming back?”
“Why would she after what you did to her?”
The Crown Prince turned and wandered out of the room in a daze.
After checking he was properly gone, Sophia turn rounded eyes on Connor.
He shrugged, “Someone had to tell him.”
Then a grin, “And that was very satisfying.”
“Well I hope he doesn’t hold it against you.”
“He’ll complain to Michael and his parents, who will agree with me. So he’ll resent me for making his life so difficult but it will kick him into action. Of course by the time we see him again at midsummer, it’ll all be his idea and the greatest thing ever.”
Sophia fought a grin of her own.
They were nearly ready to leave when a final visitor appeared, Pearl peeked in, then flew across the room to hug Sophia.
“I was so worried I was going to miss you but mother would not let me get away, I had to sneak off.”
Sophia hugged her back, then looked at her with a smile.
“Yes, Michael spoke to me. Oh Sophia, I’m so stupidly happy.”
Connor interrupted, “Pearl? Michael has more good sense than I thought.”
He smiled at her, “Just don’t let them push you into nannying Her Frilliness.”
Pearl giggled, “You’re dreadful, you know that name is going to catch on. But I won’t let them foist her onto me. I have other things to do.”
Sophia smiled in turn, “Just make your charity work more visibly dirty and unpleasant. She seems to have a serious aversion to anything that isn’t fun.”
A few more words of farewell and a promise of a long conversation at the Overcourt and they were finally free to leave.