Nora’s jaw dropped, “You were the Duke of Northaven all this time? You sneaky so-and-so.”
She turned to Mellisande, “What was your reaction when he told you? When did he tell you?”
Mellisande was forestalled by Kid, looking up at Alec with huge, shocked eyes.
“You’re the mean husband? Why?”, his lower lip quivered and Mellisande went to him, drawing him into her arms.
“He had to keep it secret to keep people safe, including himself. It still has to be a secret outside this room, so he’s trusting all of us very much.”
“But he made you unhappy.”, Kid was clearly torn and getting more upset.
“He did make me unhappy and he hated doing it. But if he hadn’t been Captain Alec, who would have found you in the caverns?”
This put a new light on matters, “Nathan?”
“Nathan is one of my oldest friends and my most trusted aide. The only reason he was at Wolfgrove was because of me.”
“But you lied.”
“I did. I try to stay as close to the truth as possible when I do though, not that it helps. Hiding things is often necessary in my work but I don’t particularly like it.”
“Why did you lie?”
“To try and find out why there were so many strange and frightening stories coming out of the area south of Wolfgrove. People don’t talk to dukes the way they talk to guards captains.”
“Why does it still have to be secret?”
“Because I might need to go back there and it’s much easier and safer to get things done as Captain Alec.”
Lady Aurelia chimed in at this stage, “Some people need to have different identities they can put on and off like clothes. Your Captain Alec is just as real as the the Duke of Northaven, they are different roles, different jobs if you will, but both of them live in the same person.”
Alec saw an opening and took it, “A bit like you really.”
Kid’s head shot up in protest, Alec expanded, “With us, you’re ‘Kid’ and you were lost. For those monsters we killed, you were ‘Snowflake’ and they will never come near you again. And then there’s your other name. The one sitting deep inside you that you don’t want to tell. That person is you as well. All of them are.”
Mellisande glared at him for mentioning the monsters, but Kid seemed to skim over that in favour of examining identities.
“Do I ever have to be Snowflake again?”
“Are there people in you that you’ll never use again?”
Alec’s face tightened in pain, “Yes there are, and it’s difficult sometimes.”
Kid leaned into Mellisande and asked her, “Are you still unhappy? You don’t feel unhappy but I’m trying not to look.”
“No I’m not. I got very upset and angry with him when he told me, but he didn’t make silly excuses or try to say it wasn’t important so I knew he meant it when he apologised and also when he promised to do his very best not to do it again. You know he does keep his promises, no matter who he’s being at the time.”
Nora muttered, “I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.”
Lady Aurelia muttered back, “Wouldn’t we all.”
Alec crouched in front of Kid so they were at eye level, “As the Duke of Northaven, my most important job up until now has been to help the king keep the kingdom safe and am sometimes expected to wear different identities to do so.”
He grinned at Mellisande, “Of course my most important job now is keeping my wife happy.”
Mellisande rolled her eyes, but blushed and Kid stepped out of Mellisande’s arms and reached out to Alec, “You’re still you?”
“I’m still me, and we’re both still sneaking around pretending to be wolf puppies.”
Kid finally smiled and Lady Aurelia huffed, “I think that took longer to sort out than the upset with your wife Alec. Now, let’s all have dinner before my steward announces he’s also the Stromsmere Ambassador.”
Kid tensed and Alec levelled a look at Her Grace, “What brought that individual to mind?”
“Kid’s colouring of course, although his eyes are unusual.”
Kid gave an exasperated growl and Alec had to promise there’d be no more talk about his looks, at least for the evening.
The Wolfgrove soldiers, with Rosalind left just after breakfast the following morning for what everyone hoped would be an uneventful trip home.
With the wild cards out of the castle, Alec and Nathan moved into their usual quarters in the Northaven suite and Alec transformed into the Duke. It was essentially just a change of clothes, but it did make a difference, as Mellisande discovered when her soldier/ranger husband, who preferred clothing that blended into the forests he was most comfortable in, joined them for lunch in unrelieved black, dictating to a following secretary as he entered the room.
The attendant was dismissed with a wave and a nod of thanks and Alec joined the others at the table. He’d always been serious, but there was another layer now, as if kingdom-changing issues were sitting on his shoulders and he was pondering their solutions as they ate.
His manners were polished and urbane, and he discussed the current court gossip with Lady Aurelia as if he’d only been there last week. Kid had agreed to join the castle children for classes, on the promise of one of their group being there for the first little while. The lot had fallen to Nora, in fact she’d volunteered, so they were going to meet the new Alec later. Mellisande wondered how Kid would react.
Alec glanced across from his seat beside her, “He’s fine with it.”
“Who’s fine with what?”
“Kid, I paid a visit to the classrooms before coming here and he was disappointed I hadn’t changed the colour of my hair or my eyes and was still recognisably me.”
“So the Duke of Northaven is a mind reader?”
“You were looking worried and you were concerned about him not being able to accept the change this morning. I’d be surprised if you weren’t thinking it.”
Mellisande smiled a little nervously, agreed, and resumed her meal. She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this nobleman, who wore power like a cloak, when she was only just starting to become accustomed to the man she’d known being her husband.
As the meal ended, Alec looked to Lady Aurelia, “Do you need my wife for any fittings or lessons this afternoon?”
“Nothing urgent, if you want to steal her away for a few hours, I can rearrange things, but she’ll have to make up for it tomorrow.”
Before Mellisande could utter an indignant protest at being discussed as if she wasn’t there, Alec stood and offered his arm. Slightly intimidated by his formality, both in manner and dress, Mellisande took it and he led her from the room as she wondered what exactly this familiar stranger had in mind.
Entering the main room of the Northaven apartment, Alec acknowledged and dismissed the maid with a polite word. He then turned to Mellisande, cupped her face in his hands, bent and kissed her deeply. The kiss she recognised and melted into, reaching her arms around his neck as his wrapped around her waist and pulled her close.
She looked up at him, confused.
“You were looking at me like I was a stranger. It’s still me and I’m still utterly besotted with you.”