Battle Plans

The group retreated into their own thoughts until Mellisande broke the silence. “Tell me, is the Princess housed in the same apartment suite as the ambassador?”

Lucas answered. “More accurately, the ambassador has moved into the Princess’s suite. He would normally be at the Embassy in the City.”

Mellisande nodded thoughtfully. “And does the ‘Stromsmere soil’ concept that applies to the embassy also apply to that apartment?”

Lucas began to grin. “No Your Grace, it is merely a guest suite within the palace and subject to my law, rather than King Rodin’s.”

Aurelia looked around at the cat-eating-cream grins on the faces surrounding her. “What am I going to kick myself for missing?”

Alec was the one who answered. “Simply that Lucas can grant my lovely wife freedom of the palace and she can walk into those apartments any time she feels like it. No one can stop her.”

Lucas looked across the carriage. “Aunt Aurelia, you already have free reign over all my properties and I look forward to seeing you exercise that freedom to its full extent in the coming days. Lady Mellisande, in welcoming you to our family, I invite you to treat my home as yours and go where ever you wish during your time there.”

Mellisande mulled the request. “The Northaven apartments first I think. Then I do believe I’d like a tour of all the key apartments, starting with the one currently occupied by the Princess. What is her name by the way?”

“Isolde.” Lucas said.

“Thank you. Now who should accompany me on this tour? Someone needs to stay with Kid.”

Alec replied. “Lucas obviously needs to conduct the tour, and I’m not about to see you walk into those rooms without me by your side. Nathan can help Kid pick out his bedroom while we’re out.”

“Expecting trouble are you cousin?”

“Expecting? No. Preparing just in case? Yes.”

Lady Aurelia asked. “Do your people know your movements, Lucas?”

“My secretary and a couple of advisors do. The court in general, no. They’re aware I’ve been with you and likely to return soon but not precisely when, or who will be with me.”

“Good, we have surprise in our favour then. What are your plans for me?”

Lucas raised his brows. “I’m planning to defer to your knowledge, experience and good judgement. What do you think would be best?”

“I’m not sure why you’re trying to butter me up nephew, you should know by now it’s unnecessary. I will divert the attention of the main body of your courtiers with my grand arrival and immediate need to redecorate my suite. I’m sure it’s terribly outmoded.”

The carriage slowed, then stopped at a neat inn at the edge of a village within sight of the King’s Circle walls. Nathan appeared at the door. “Just thought you might like a pause to arrange or reorganise things before we get to the city.”

Alec gave an approving nod. “Good tactics, Nathan. We need to let you all know our plans and Kid will have to accompany the ladies in the carriage for this last section.”

Kid pouted at this news, Mellisande explained. “You’re supposed to be my page and have to stay with me, not my guards.”

“And you don’t want people to see me.”

“Yes, and I don’t want people to see you.”

He sighed but jumped into the carriage, flopped into the seat next to Alec and asked. “So what’s a page supposed to do?”

“Fetching, carrying, delivering notes for me, finding my shawl when I’m cold, pretending to be delivering notes or collecting tea from the kitchens while spying on suspicious people. Nothing terribly interesting.”

Kid’s eyes brightened. “I’m going to be a spy?”

“You’re going to be a page. Spying is part of what a good page does.”

Lady Aurelia added. “Which makes it more complicated as it means people are expecting you to be spying, and you need to get around their notice or convince them you’re not.”

Kid’s face screwed up. “How?”

Mellisande answered. “I think we’ll need to talk to Alec and Nathan once we’re in our apartments but for now, you’ll have to make do with hiding in plain sight.”

She answered Kid’s confusion. “It just means you’re going to be right there in front of everyone but no one is going to notice you because you’re my page and you have a cold so have to keep your hood up and maybe even a handkerchief in front of your face.”

Lady Aurelia laughed at the expression this produced. “Yes, it’s a very boring disguise but boring often works best and remember, it’s only until you get to the Northaven rooms and have time to prepare and practice.”

Alec ruffled Kid’s hair, then exited the carriage. “On that note, I’m going to join Lucas in riding this final leg.”

He answered Mellisande’s raised brow. “Lucas is holding on to a secret and I want it out of him before we’re inside the city walls.”

Lady Aurelia asked. “What makes you think he’s not telling us everything?”

“There’s no way he would have abandoned the princess to come and fetch us if there wasn’t something else going on that would be helped by his absence. He could have summoned us to court by letter box or even courier some time ago.”

He raised his voice slightly. “Isn’t that right cousin?”

Lucas appeared round the side of the carriage. “Very clever. Could you maybe trust me to know my own business?”

“My job is to help you with ‘your own business’.”

Lucas blew out a breath. “Fine. Let’s ride.”

Alec glanced back at the group in the carriage. “We’ll talk later.” Then moved to collect his horse.

Once mounted, he signalled to Nathan and brought his horse alongside the King’s.

“Nathan, could you make sure the guards give us talking space?”

His second-in-command nodded and spun his horse to confer with the Royal Guards captain.

They rode in silence until clear of the village traffic, then Lucas spoke.

“Rodin’s here as well.”

Alec whipped his head around, staring at Lucas. “WHAT?”

“He asked me to keep it quiet but when you let me know your thoughts on Kid, I sent him a message with that old code the two of you used to use when we were sixteen or so. He still has that glamour amulet that changes his eye colour and is presenting as one of Princess Isolde’s guards.”

“What does he know and how angry is he?”

“Only the basics. You found Kid, he’d clearly been badly treated, you took him to a healer and, when the cottage was attacked, took him with you to Lilyfield for further healing and assessment. He’s unhappy it was me who contacted him, rather than you, but I think I’ve managed to smooth that over a little. You’ll need to give him a full report though. Preferably before he sees Kid.”

“So what’s Kid’s real name?”

“According to Kid, it’s Kid. According to Rodin, it’s Kiron.”

“I’m impressed you’ve known that the whole time and not slipped up. What else can you tell me?”

“Nothing more I’m afraid, Rodin’s keeping everything else quiet. I think he doesn’t want to have to repeat the story.”

“And what does your princess know?”

“That her brother’s here to conduct some cagey business with me and investigate the ambassador. She knows nothing about Kid.”

Lucas paused. “And she’s not my princess.”

Alec raised a brow. “You two have been unofficially intended for years. And I know you’ve been corresponding. If she’s here now, given everything that’s happened, I’d say she’s your princess.”

Lucas flushed and fixed his gaze between his horse’s ears. “I’ve barely spoken two words to he since she arrived. I’ve had more conversation with Rodin as her guard, and he’s even worse than you when he wants to be close mouthed.”

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