The party leaving Sophia’s family home a couple of days later was larger than expected, at least by Connor. Sophia’s parents came to a swift decision after a letter arrived from Prince Stephen, requesting their kind attendance at a conference to discuss the education of the future queen of Lillia. Sophia thought he needed to learn a little bit about subtlety.
She and her parents travelled in the carriage, along with her mother’s personal attendant and chief confidante. Once clear of the estate and its surrounds, Sophia would transform into a personal dresser-in-training, providing both the perfect disguise and an opportunity to learn skills that would be useful in her persona of seamstress ‘Anne’.
The week spent travelling to Weriban’s capital was a good one. This was a popular trade route, so roads and inns were well maintained and comfortably populated. Sophia’s parents were able to get to know their daughter and enjoy her, beyond the confines of her previous role, and theirs in training her for it.
On a particularly fine day, Sophia had opted to ride, rather than sit in the carriage and Connor mentioned the change he’d noticed in her interactions with her parents.
She sighed, but smiled, “I don’t think any of us realised how heavy those royal expectations were until they were lifted.”
“On you certainly.”
“On all of us. Including you, but yours haven’t lifted and nor are they likely to.”
Connor hadn’t thought much about it before, life was just life and, yes there were expectations but were they heavy? He wasn’t sure.
The whole party was slightly disappointed when the city’s towers finally appeared, late one morning. Even Sophia’s mother’s dresser was unhappy to be losing a sweet and enthusiastic apprentice (who she’d known from babyhood, but never so closely).
They lunched together at a charming inn, just beyond the city walls, then entered the city as separate parties. Sophia’s parents to an inn near the trading houses they had come to meet, and Sophia and Connor to the palace, official writ in hand.
Connor’s paperwork was inspected, and accepted, with ripples of excited gossip spreading through the palace and into nearby homes with whirlwind speed. Sophia hadn’t even settled her bags before the first note, summoning her to a nearby ducal residence had arrived. Connor took it and shook his head.
“No, even in this guise you are an emissary of the Overcourt. They come to you. I’ll organise a room, same as we had in Lillia.”
He strode off purposefully and Sophia smiled at Acron, “Definitely a knight protector, but rather more practical than most.”
Acron gave a doggy sneeze in agreement.
Connor secured a room, and news of the arrangement spread only marginally more slowly than their arrival. He had decreed an initial discussion and information gathering for the next morning and Sophia was torn between amusement and concern at the sheer number of young women nonchalantly passing her room and, on the spur of the moment, deciding to attend.
She wasn’t amused by the ones who seemed to be more interested in Connor than in his message from the Overlord, their flutterings and cooings grated on her nerves. It was exacerbated since it was Connor who had to provide the crowd with the Overlord’s decree and instructions.
Amusement returned when, at the end of his presentation, he introduced her as a seamstress to the Overcourt and managed to imply rather strongly that she was going to have a great deal of influence over the appearance of the ball gowns. Suddenly she was the one being cooed over and her patience shredded further.
They managed to set up a schedule of individual appointments, running for the following week, in order to give each lady proper attention, and to allow Sophia to properly mine for information.
This was when her research became useful. She was able to start her appointments with women she was confident already had interests elsewhere, or were not temperamentally suited to either the Overcourt or the role in question. Conversations with them could help her better navigate the later sessions with women she knew less about, and were more likely to be enthusiastic candidates.
The throng wafted away, leaving Sophia and Connor wrung out and Acron hiding under a table.
Connor made sure the door was closed, then turned to Sophie, “This is not the most promising start.”
“I’m sure there are some unattached ladies here with the right upbringing and temperament for the role. They’re just hard to spot in a large crowd. The individual sessions will be much more productive.”
He snorted, “Keep telling yourself that and maybe see if you can find out a bit more about Leaf or Rimeth from this lot while you’re at it. I’m not going to hold my breath.”
“While you’re not holding your breath and I’m measuring unsuitable women, what are you going to be doing?”
Connor looked blank.
“You can’t stand outside the door for a week.”
He huffed, “I know that, it’s just I had plenty of running around to do in Lillia, it hadn’t occurred to me I’d be stuck for activity elsewhere. I might go and see if I can sit in on lessons or exercises with the military training school. It’s all useful information.”
Sophia smiled. It was something he’d enjoy, it would be useful for Lillia, Weriban and the Overcourt, and it would keep him away from those fluttering ladies. In all, it was a very good plan.