The firework display went off without a hitch, and Astrid found herself being coerced into visiting the capital to organise a similar display for upcoming festivals. She refused to promise anything though, not being terribly fond of the fuss and bustle of the royal court.
The King only spent three days at Lilyfeld and, as Lady Aurelia predicted, the Northaven party, Kid included, was expected to return to King’s Circle with him.
“You’ve been away a very long time cousin. People are going to think you’re in disgrace or something. Not to mention the fact you’ve yet to show off your lovely bride.”
Alec grumbled, but agreed.
The day before the group was due to leave, he led a full sweep of the perimeter of the estate, using both mundane and magical means to check for any disturbances or latent threats. They had been safe at Lilyfeld and he was worried about being lulled into a false sense of security. There were people out there who wanted Kid and didn’t much care how they got him.
Kid was unhappy to be leaving. He’d formed firm friendships with the group he’d played with that first afternoon and even had a certain grudging respect going with his dining room nemesis. After all, anyone who could set off fireworks for a friend’s birthday was someone to be on the good side of.
Alec’s care was not unwarranted, evidence of carefully hidden camps was found in a number of spots around the estate and they surprised a group of rough-looking men, lurking near the main road to King’s Circle, turning their planned ambush on its head and taking them into custody for further questioning.
Custody had to be arranged at short notice in a nearby town, Alec didn’t want to risk letting them near either Kid or Mellisande, even within Lilyfeld’s security. He doubted they’d be held for long and quietly gave the order to not stand in the way of any escape attempt. This group took lives far too lightly.
They were extensively questioned before he returned to the castle, with little in the way of new information. The men had some sort of geas on them that blocked any discussion of their employer or purpose.
The King, or possibly even Kid now, could probably get through the spell laid on them, but again, it wasn’t worth the risk to them.
He reported the day’s events to the group over dinner and orders were sent out for an expansion of the scouting parties already assigned to the travelling group.
It was a slightly tense group who assembled in the castle forecourt the next morning. Word had come in that the captured men hadn’t escaped overnight, every last one of them was dead.
Alec requested the movement of two of the bodies to the morgue at King’s Circle, joining the merge magic creatures for assessment.
The King looked over at him, “I’m not sure whether to be glad you’re on top of this mystery snaking through my kingdom or astounded at the way you attract trouble.”
Alec grimaced, “I don’t think I’m in any way on top of it Sire. Finding Kid was pure luck and it’s all been dominoes from there. All I know is that there’s something going on somewhere and I don’t like it, whatever it is.”
“Which puts you ahead of every other investigator in my service. I’ll need you to give a full, in-person briefing to all available agents at the earliest possible moment.”
Alec nodded and the King turned his attention to Kid, “I know you are exceptionally good at keeping secrets and you’re clearly familiar with Alec’s multiple guises. One thing to remember once we leave here is that no one else knows he does this investigation work, and we don’t want them to know. Alec has been on various trade missions for me, as well as spending time at home in Northaven over the past few months. He then met Lady Mellisande here, when she finally discovered her messages and came to visit.”
He looked at Alec, “Where did you find Kid?”
“Mountain caves near Northaven. It’s the most believable given we’re on the border of Stromsmere up there. Are you comfortable with that Kid?”
Kid thought for a bit, then nodded, “Although you might have to tell me a bit about them, so I don’t describe things wrong if someone asks me.”
Mellisande joined them, “I’d like to hear about them too, they’re supposed to be part of my new home after all and we’ve barely even mentioned the place.”
Alec smiled ruefully, “So much information, so little time. I want to take you up there as soon as I can. My family are so excited to meet you and mother in particular is getting decidedly huffy at my constant delays.”
Kid was proudly riding his own pony this time, and Alec and Mellisande took up places either side as they moved off, and Alec began describing the land around his home.
The expanded scouting party flushed out an additional group of attackers late in the afternoon and reported seeing something large and fur-covered fleeing as they sprung the trap.
Accommodation that night was at a large inn at the centre of a busy market town. The King’s party had already all-but cleared it of other guests and even most of the staff, so all that was needed was an extra basement-to-rooftop sweep and a thorough watch roster.
Sleep was uneasy but the night was quiet.
Alec joined his cousin for an early breakfast, the King waving him to a seat and summoning a waiter in the same motion.
Alec placed his request and looked across the table, “What are you thinking, Lucas?”
“In relation to what? Your investigation, your wife, your waif or something else?”
“All of it, although mainly Kid, and the Stromsmere delegation currently at court.”
The waiter delivered Alec’s breakfast and Lucas took the time to mull over the question.
Once the man was again out of hearing, the conversation resumed.
“With regards to your investigation, I agree that Kid was an unexpected development, both in himself and in the events his recovery has triggered. Calling it luck is an exaggeration. You were already in the area and investigating the caverns. That means you had some inkling.”
Alec grunted, unconvinced.
“Moving on to your wife. Lovely girl, looks well set up to be utterly terrifying in a few years. It’s going to be fun watching her set the court on its collective ear.”
“You think she will?”
“I think the two of you together will, and she’ll confound all the gossips in the process.”
Lucas blew out a breath, “And on to our visitors. Very good question and my concerns are twofold. One is the worry over having Kid put in danger, the second is the possible issue the delegation may have with our apparent possession of a member of the Stromsmere royal family.”
“I’m relieved you put them in that order.”