There were about twenty children of various sizes and ages, running, shouting, and playing complicated games involving skipping ropes, pebbles, sticks or padded leather balls. Kid stared.
The group settled on an open bench with a good view of the action, Kid glued to Alec’s side.
The children were soon sending curious glances their way and within a few minutes, a girl walked over to investigate. She dismissed the adults as not worth her time, and focused on Kid.
“You’re new here aren’t you.”
Kid leaned harder in to Alec, but nodded.
“Did you come with the group that arrived at lunchtime? Mama said they were important people.”
Kid looked at Alec, “Are you Important People? I thought Important People wore shiny things and were grumpy.”
Nathan laughed, “Well he’s certainly grumpy enough and his sword and knives are shiny.”
Alec smiled and replied, “Not me Kid, Lady Mellisande. She’s Lady Aurelia’s god-daughter and the Duchess of Northaven, it makes her one of the highest-ranking people in the kingdom.”
Kid turned back to the girl, “Yes, I came with The Lady, and she’s important. But she’s nice too.”
This was digested and the next topic opened.
“Why are you all white? Did they forget to colour you in or something when you were born?”
Kid looked thoroughly bewildered and Alec stepped in again.
“Nothing special, he just has parents who also have pale skin and very light hair, so he looks like them.”
The girl nodded sagely, “I have my mama’s eyes and my papa’s hair. Come and play.”
The last was addressed to Kid with all the imperiousness of a reigning queen. Kid considered briefly, demanded and received assurance from the adults that they weren’t going anywhere and would take proper care of his food bag, then followed the girl back to the group she had come from.
It didn’t take long for Kid to be immersed in whatever game was being played. Watching him play, Alec felt several knots of concern unravel.
Nora glanced at him and nodded, “I’m relieved as well. He’s always so serious I was scared he’d lost the ability.”
Rosalind was puzzled enough to risk attention, “The ability to run?”
Nora replied, “The ability to play. He’s been badly treated and I was worried it might have pulled some of his childhood from him. He is astoundingly resilient.”
Rosalind looked nervously over at Alec, “It was nice of you to say his colouring was because he looked like his parents.”
Alec raised his eyebrows, “He does.”
“You know his parents?”
“I know of them, and I think they are going to be very upset when they discover everything that’s happened.”
Nathan chimed in, “Which is why we need to find out exactly what did happen first.”
They lapsed into general, casual chat while Kid played. Eventually, the other children started being called in for dinner and Alec waved Kid over.
“Are you happy to come in and eat now? We can come back tomorrow.”
The original girl had followed him over.
“He should join us for lessons in the morning. Mama says education is important.”
Nora smiled, “Your mama is absolutely right. He may not join you tomorrow morning but certainly soon.”
The girl nodded, “You said he looked like his parents, are they here too?”
Alec answered, “No, we’re on a quest to reunite them after Kid was lost.”
“You got lost?”
“Some bad people made me lost, but Captain Alec is fixing it.”
That earned Alec an assessing look. He apparently passed some test as she nodded, then turned to Kid and patted him on the head, “Be good and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She didn’t wait for an answer but skipped across the courtyard to where a woman was waiting, took her hand and waved before going inside.
The walk to the Northaven suite, where Mellisande was now in residence, was full of chatter about this child or that, and strange new games and rules he knew that were different.
Alec knocked on the door of the suite. It was opened by a maid in Nothaven colours, who gave him a startled look but covered it with a neat curtsey.
“Returning members of Her Grace’s party to prepare for dinner. Please let Her Grace know I will join her and Lady Aurelia for dinner to discuss King’s Circle.”
The maid bobbed again, “Very good sir.”
Nathan ushered Nora and Rosalind through the door but Kid dug in his heels.
“I’m staying with Captain Alec.”
Alec looked down, “You don’t want to visit Lady Mellisande?”
Kid paused, “Is she there? You only gave a message for the other lady. The Lady will be cross if you stop talking to her again.”
It took Alec a moment to work out the confusion.
“Lady Mellisande is a Duchess, and Duchesses are addressed as Your Grace. So I was talking about her, not Lady Aurelia. I was just using her married title, not her Wolfgrove one.”
Kid mulled it over, but still opted to accompany Nathan and Alec.
The maid asked them to wait for a moment, whisked away and returned with a neat bundle of clothes. The Master Tailor had managed to find a good selection in Kid’s size.
They returned to the barracks to bathe and dress.
Nathan nudged Alec as they walked, “So what’s your next step Oh Great Military Strategist?”
Alec grunted, “Careful. I’m not sure I want my full identity broadcast across Wolfgrove and beyond, which is inevitable if Rosalind finds out.”
Nathan snorted, “Didn’t Her Ladyship tell you the girl was discreet.”
“I think she would have told me just about anything in order to get to the cottage. Besides, compare Rosalind to the other members of her entourage. Rosalind is careless but she’s not a deliberate rumour-monger and she’s not nasty in her comments. She really is the most discreet of that lot. Plus, she has no concept of the implications of Kid’s appearance.”
Kid pouted, “You’re always saying things about my looks and that it means stuff. It’s boring.”
Alec ruffled his hair, “I told you adults were boring. Now, which boring adult would you like to have dinner with?”
“You and The Lady.”
Nathan smiled, “Why did you even bother to ask?”
Alec shrugged as they reached the barracks, “It’s nice to be given a choice.”
Nathan was pleased to remain at the barracks after they washed and changed. So it was just Alec, with a similarly clean and fresh Kid in tow, who headed for the main living area of the castle, pausing to confirm the dinner location with a passing footman.
They were the last to arrive. The two Ladies and Nora were already gathered at a window, discussing the view.
Kid clearly hadn’t anticipated the Other Lady and hung back. Alec gave him a reassuring pat, but moved directly to Mellisande, sliding an arm about her waist, to the clear astonishment of Nora.
He smiled, “I’m assuming from Nora’s reaction, you haven’t mentioned our earlier discussion to her or Rosalind?”
“I’m learning how to keep secrets. Nora, may I introduce to you my husband, the Duke of Northaven.”