“How many others know who he is?” Lucas asked.
“As in his likely rank?”
Alec replied. “Aunt Aurelia probably has a fair inkling but won’t mention it. Nathan knows he’s not a run-of-the-mill Stromsmere child and is determinedly refusing to know any more. Mellisande and Nora obviously know his likely country of origin but nothing more than that.”
“I’m not sure if that’s going to help or hinder us. It may be useful to at least tell your wife your suspicions as I may need to press her into service as liaison with our most high-ranking guest.”
“The Stromsmere princess has arrived then?”
“Yes, and beyond the welcoming occasion, she’s remained in her quarters. None of the ladies currently at court rank highly enough to be able to visit her and I had a report arrive last night. It seems the ambassador is blocking any attempts she makes to open communication with the ladies who are there.”
“You didn’t plan that too well.”
“I have a choice of three women who combine high enough rank with the brains and discretion needed to successfully navigate conversations with Her Royal Highness. Aunt Aurelia, who’s been busy thanks to you. Your mother, who is too far away and hates coming to court anyway. And your wife, so you’d better start acquainting her with the situation.”
Mellisande entered the room just in time to hear the last words, “What situation?”
Alec looked around, “Let’s move breakfast to the private parlour, and ask Lady Aurelia to join us. I think we need a group discussion.”
Lady Aurelia appeared behind Mellisande, “And it didn’t occur to you to have this discussion before we left Lilyfeld, rather than in a public building?”
The king grimaced, “I know we should have, but I was enjoying the holiday too much and I didn’t have an extra little piece of information until this morning. It’s more speculation than fact, but throws a rather different shadow over interactions with my court.”
Mellisande looked worried, and gazed up at Alec when he wrapped an arm around her.
Before she could say anything, the king added dryly, “And you’re going to have to stop cuddling your wife in public Alec, people will talk.”
Alec shrugged, “If Mellisande objects, I’ll stop. Anyone else can mind their own business.”
He looked down at her in question, she slid her arms around him and smiled in reply. The king rolled his eyes.
“Well you two are going to be one way to distract the court from the impending mess.”
Lady Aurelia looked at the three of them consideringly, “Rather than putting everyone on alert, asking for a private room, can we all opt to ride in the carriage today?”
Mellisande was the only one with an objection and it was simply voiced, “Kid?”
Alec shrugged, “He can join us, since it partially concerns him, and when he gets bored of the grown up talk, he can ride again. Nathan’s been promising to teach him tricks so he may not want to ride in the carriage in the first place.”
The King smiled ruefully, “For one small person, he takes up an awful lot of time and attention from an awful lot of people.”
Lady Aurelia laughed, “Welcome to parenting. All children are like that.”
Nathan’s riding tricks proved a far stronger draw than grown ups talking, so the group in the carriage were able to discuss a number of matters that may have been otherwise difficult to raise. The first being Kid’s family origins.
“How can you tell he’s royal?”, Mellisande was understandably concerned.
“His eyes. You only find dark eyes in the Stromsmere ruling family, everyone else is light blue, grey or green.” Alec shrugged, “It’s apparently some sort of legacy of an ancient magical ancestor.”
“What if he’s some sort of by-blow or distant relative?”
The King grumbled, “Any other country and that’s what I’d be considering as well, but this one definitely has magic involved. Only the ruling family has dark eyes. No cousins, no bastards. The non-heirs will have the dark eyes but their children will have light ones. We don’t know what happens if there’s an unexpected shift in inheritance but I’d be willing to bet there’s an overnight change in eye colour on occasion.”
“So Kid is a prince.”
“Yes, and quite possibly the crown prince. We don’t know enough about the royal family itself, they keep their children very private.”
Mellisande looked around at the others in wide-eyed worry.
The King sighed, “It gets better. The youngest sister of the King of Stromsmere arrived on a state visit two weeks ago. The visit was set up about two years before that with an unspoken suggestion that it may be a good marriage alliance. However, she hasn’t left her rooms since she arrived, which is why I was able to get away for this visit. My eyes in the area now tell me the ambassador appears to be blocking all her attempts at communication and, since a visit by any lady lower than a royal duchess would be considered a grave insult, I can’t get anyone into her quarters.”
“So you came to collect Lady Aurelia.”
“I came to collect you. You’re closer in age and are more likely to be seen as a possible friend than a marriage inspector.”
Lady Aurelia humphed, “Charmed I’m sure.”
The King smiled winningly, “I need to keep you in reserve for when the trouble really starts.”
“Oh that’s reassuring.”
Mellisande leaned in to Alec. “What kind of trouble is there likely to be?”
Alec replied. “It depends on their reaction to a child of their household disappearing and then mysteriously reappearing in our company, having clearly been abused.”
“You mean they’ll blame us.”
Lady Aurelia had been sunk in thought and now rejoined the conversation, “Why would the ambassador be keeping his country’s princess and strongest diplomatic leverage confined and isolated?”
Both the men shook their heads, the King spoke, “We don’t know and that’s what’s worrying me most. Again, if I knew more about their family structure…”
Alec leaned back against the seat and thought, “I don’t know much and the information is old but if it’s correct, the current king inherited early, like you cousin, but in a much more divided court. He has two sisters, the middle one was married prior to his ascension and her husband is fairly obscure. A military hero I believe, but not high-ranking. They’re rarely at court, she all but renounced her rank when she married, it was a bit of a scandal, and all the young village girls were swooning over it. The younger one is presumably still unmarried, although it may be she’s not unattached.”
The King responded, “Well I doubt the attachment’s to the ambassador. He’s old enough to be her father, is the coldest fish I’ve ever met and has already buried two wives. I have a nasty feeling he was sent to us to keep him away from other possible brides.”
“Except he’s now had the most sought after bride in his country land right in his lap.” Lady Aurelia pointed out.