They left the city, heading north to Sophia’s childhood home. The journey could be completed in a day, but they’d left late and both had no wish to discover the effects of Sophia’s dress on her mother and father.
So, after a night at a quiet wayside inn, Sophia caused a mild sensation in the breakfast room, appearing as herself. She was obviously well known in this part of Lillia and, apparently well loved too.
She was fussed over by the inn staff and fellow travellers, all mystified as to how she had come to be there for breakfast. Connor spun a story of her just arriving this morning to be met by him on their way to her home.
The absence of people accompanying her was a bit of a loophole but no one seemed to notice it. Sophia guarded against future realisations with a comment on the need for her travel companions to return home very quickly.
She was able to talk the innkeeper out of summoning all the local dignitaries and they made it back onto the road shortly after breakfast with only a few people added to their travel group.
Their fellow travellers were slightly disconcerted by Acron. The disguised dragon had a way with horses, so none of the animals were remotely concerned, it was only the human element. He did not help matters at all with his running commentary and questions to Connor on human mannerisms and quirks.
It was left to Sophia to weave the story this time, of a gift from the Overlord, one of a litter of pups he had been gifted in turn from Rimeth. She was fairly confident none of her companions would be visiting the Overcourt in the near future, if ever, and the number of strange stories and rumours that circulated about that place never felt the burden of an extra one added.
Eventually, they reached the gates of her parent’s estate and turned down the drive, politely shedding most of their entourage. The only burr to stick was the local ironmonger, who had business in the kitchens and entertained them all (Acron unknowingly) with local gossip and carefully qualified heresay.
Sophia wondered if she could recruit him for her designated information network. She decided she needed the practice, since she had none, and delighted the man with her request to hear more from him about local goings-on as she so missed it and he clearly had a talent for both observation and the telling. He promised to send regular reports to the Overcourt for her.
They parted at the entrance to the house, the ironmonger heading for the kitchens, fizzing with impatience to tell of his new duties, as Sophia and Connor handed their horses off with thanks to the stable staff and headed for the front door.
“He’s not going to be discreet.”
“He doesn’t need to be. If everyone around here knows he’s keeping me in touch with home and the interests of the local people, not just nobility, he’s going to find himself inundated with stories and concerns. My hope is that his pride in his storytelling talents will make sure only the most relevant and important news gets through to me and I’m not having to wade through piles of fluff.”
“You’re a bit scary when you put your mind to it. I’m impressed.”
Sophia laughed and moved to greet her parents. It was a little teary, but happy, and it took quite some time to unravel all the happenings and concerns that had been going on in both Sophia’s and her parents’ worlds since that fateful afternoon tea.
Sophia’s mother sat back, “So my dear, if you’re not going to sacrifice yourself on the altar of Stephen’s true love, what is to be done about her?”
“I heard various rumours and suggestions while we were in the palace. One was for me to marry Michael – thereby sacrificing both of us. I’d like to think it was never a serious suggestion and now Michael’s declared himself to Pearl, is completely out of the question.”
She paused, “And the other one mentioned by the queen was for you to take a hand in her education, since you did such a good job with me.”
Her parents shuddered.
Her father spoke, “We may have to suddenly find a need to travel. Maybe we can accompany you as far as Weriban, I do have trade interests there which could do with a slightly closer touch.”
Her mother agreed, “I’m sure she’s a lovely girl, but so thoughtless and frankly, not very teachable.”
Sophia smiled, “We’d love your company if you’d like to join us. Connor sent Stephen off with quite a flea in his ear yesterday so I do think efforts are finally going to be made. She’ll find it very difficult to adapt though, she’s clearly never had to think of responsibilities or consequences in her life.”
Sophia’s father frowned, “We had more important things to think about when we were first introduced to her, but what is her background?”
Connor replied, “Nothing untoward, His Majesty had her very thoroughly investigated to make sure she wasn’t some planted bad influence. She’s the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Youngest and only girl, and has been petted and indulged since the day she was born. I have my suspicions about her mortal danger and rescue, but I do believe she was only looking to hook a young man she’d taken a fancy to. She had no idea who he actually was.”
“It will be interesting to see if she stays in love with him once the demands of the role start piling on.” her mother mused.
Sophia looked concerned, “You think she might break it off?”
“She might, even though she is genuinely fond of him, it may not be enough. Don’t worry though, no one in their right mind would expect you to pick things back up again, much as they would want you to.”
Sophia exchanged glances with Connor, “I’m going to need to keep a closer eye on Lillia than I thought.”
“You’ve got good correspondents in both Pearl and Her Majesty, just ask them to you the news the way you did with that chap this morning.”
Her father looked intrigued, “What are you up to?”
Sophia shrugged airily, “Oh, just making sure I don’t miss all the news from home when I’m so far away.”
Her mother bit her tongue and Sophia laughed.
“You were going to tell me queens don’t shrug weren’t you.”
“Old habits, darling. I am happy for you though.”