The Palace

As they entered the city, Alec dropped back to ride beside the coach. Mellisande opened the window next to her and narrowed her eyes at him. “You’ve done it again haven’t you?”

“What?”

“Changed into a guard captain.”

Alec frowned and looked down at himself. “It wasn’t intentional. It just seems a better way to approach the palace right now.”

Lucas, riding ahead but within earshot, laughed. “Well keep it up, one less person I have to cover with a ‘look-away’ once we get to the palace.”

Kid wriggled across the seat, squeezing up next to Mellisande. “What’s a lookaway? And why is everything here red?”

Lucas reigned back enough to join the group. “A look-away is a very light charm that encourages people to think of us as boring and not worth paying attention to. It won’t work on me. I’m too recognisable. But it should get all of you to the Northaven apartments without too many people trying to interfere.”

“And the red?”

“We don’t have that much stone in this part of the country, and any wood is needed for other things, so the buildings are made of clay bricks. And the clay in these parts is red.”

Kid frowned thoughtfully, thanked the king and scooted back to the other window to stare at the buildings again.

Lucas asked the air. “Why do I feel like my city has been judged and found wanting?”

Mellisande laughed at that, then sobered. “So, have you two been successfully sharing secrets? Are we allowed to know any of them?”

Alec looked at Lucas, who grimaced. “Yes and yes, but not yet. It would be better if we could collect a few others for a full discussion first.”

Alec asked. “Your suite, or the Northaven rooms?”

“Northaven I think, not as many people having to move about that way. It does mean you’ll want to invite the princess to tea immediately.” Lucas addressed the latter to Mellisande.

“Will the Ambassador permit it?”

“He will if I deliver the invitation, and refuse to leave without her.” The King looked grim. “Making sure he doesn’t join us however…”

Mellisande and Lady Aurelia shared a look and smiled. Mellisande turned back to Lucas. “Let him accompany her. Then leave it to us.”

Lady Aurelia asked. “What of her guards?”

Lucas answered. “They won’t be a problem.”

A short time later, they clattered into the main forecourt of the palace, then continued around to a quieter side entrance.

Lucas had the three from the carriage stand together as he cast his look-away charm. As it settled, Kid shrugged his shoulders and flipped a hand in front of his face.

Lucas asked him. “What does is feel like?”

“Is it the spell? It’s like something’s covering me. Not heavy, like a blanket. More like a sheet, or cobwebs.”

“If I make it heavier, then some people will notice you less, but mages will notice the magic. You’re quite sensitive to it.” Kid looked worried and Lucas added. “That’s a good thing. Learn to understand it and you’ll find it very helpful.”

Alec returned to the conversation after a quiet discussion with Nathan. “But no learning of look-aways just yet, so don’t try and wheedle it out of him.”

Kid pouted. “Why? I could hide from the bad people.”

“The bad people have magic. They can sense the spell. You need to learn to rely on your other senses and abilities first.”

“I don’t have other abilities.”

Alec held out a hand for Kid to hold as they entered the palace. “You have the ability to run, and hide and we’re going to teach you how to fight as you get bigger. Besides, your magic does it for you when you need it. Remember how you hid in the forest outside the caverns?”

“Oh, I forgot about that. Can I have a sword?”

Nathan spoke up from behind them. “Not until you’re big enough to hold one. Don’t worry, a good dagger will more than work for you for now.”

“You’re arming children now, Your Majesty?”

Lucas rolled his eyes and turned to the speaker. “Yes, I’m planning on creating a waist-high army to overrun – somewhere. Kid, where are we invading?”

“Somewhere with nice food.”

“There you are Lady Battren, we’re mounting a campaign against the nearest bakery.” Lucas made shooing motions behind his back and the group shuffled quickly past as he held the nosy woman’s attention with questions on court matters.

They made it to the Northaven suite without further interruption, Lucas joining them a few minutes later, sniggering.

“Lady Battren just tried to tell me off for not bringing the new Duchess of Northaven with me. It was very satisfying to see her expression when I told her I had, along with the Dowager Duchess of Lilyfeld. I think she might be leaving for the country tomorrow morning.”

Kid looked confused. “Why?”

“Because she walked straight past them without acknowledging them, or the Duke of Northaven. Doing so is considered very rude and she’s well-known for her insistence on suitable manners and deference paid. She just managed to be insulting to three of the highest-standing members of my court and if it got out, she’d be the laughing stock of the palace.”

“But that’s not fair, we have a spell on us.”

“You’re right, so that’s why we’re not going to tell anyone about it.”

“Can you take it off now? It’s sticky.”

Lucas blinked. “Of course.”

He frowned in concentration, then muttered something under his breath and made a couple of quick gestures. Kid breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank you. I mean, it didn’t hurt or anything, it was just there.”

Nathan returned from a sweep of the rooms. “Well since you’re now spell-free and the apartment is clear, how about we do some exploring? You can choose your bedroom and this lot can do boring grown-up things.”

Kid looked to Alec, who said. “That sounds like a good idea. Maybe you could hunt down one or two of the secret passages as well and make sure they’re still working properly.”

Lady Aurelia smiled at Kid’s breathless agreement, then said to Nathan. “I’m going to settle myself here with some tea. I’ll send Janet through with provisions when she has a moment. Exploring is hungry work.”

Kid nodded and grabbed Nathan’s hand, towing him through the nearest likely-looking door.

As the group watched them go, Lady Aurelia murmured, too quietly for Kid to hear. “You’re going to have trouble giving him back to his family.”

Alec grimaced. “Trouble on a number of levels. I’m not looking forward to it.”

Lucas turned to Mellisande, who had been taking her own measure of what she could see of the rooms. “In vaguely related matters, how would you like to go about inviting Princess Isolde to tea?”

Mellisande moved toward what appeared to be a desk. “If there’s a pen, ink and paper here, I’ll write a note. If not, we’ll either have to wait for some, or trust the informality of a verbal invitation won’t be taken as an excuse to refuse.”

The desk contained the needed materials and a short, polite note expressing a wish to get to know Her Royal Highness over tea that afternoon was quickly written and signed.

Mellisande folded it and dripped wax onto the join. Alec handed her his signet ring. “May as well make it as official-looking as we can.”

She smiled at him and pressed the ring’s carved surface into the soft wax.

Lucas took the letter with a bow and left the room.

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