A New Order
Raoul sat back in his chair and surveyed his office with pride. It was exactly as it should be; a wall of bookshelves with important-looking tomes covering every inch, a sideboard along the opposite wall for when he needed refreshments for his important visitors and his desk in the middle of the room, facing the door, with a large window at his back.
His parents had finally agreed to let him assist the Prime Minister and, really, everyone knew that was where the real power lay. As King and Queen, his parents were figureheads, nothing more, and with both his older siblings focused on boring things to do with levelling highway surfaces and running off pirates from the trade routes, he would control the kingdom from behind the scenes, setting laws and negotiating treaties.
He slipped into a delightful daydream where the ambassadors of Clearfall and the Sun Empire sat across the table from him, speechless with amazement at his eloquence and grasp of the true nature of matters.
It was rudely interrupted by Andreas walking in, looking around, and snorting.
Raoul jerked straight in his chair. “You can’t just walk in here without knocking!”
“Why not? You do it to me all the time.”
Raoul pouted. “That’s different, you don’t use your office for anything important.”
Andreas raised an eyebrow. “Your opinion, not mine. Besides, I find it more useful to be out, talking to people.”
Raoul grinned, Andreas’s expression turned suspicious. “What have you done?”
Raoul pulled on his most innocent expression, he knew it drove his brother mad. “Me? Nothing at all. It was just that the Crown Council was discussing the matter of the replacement Governor for Port Watch, and I suggested it might be a nice gesture from the Crown to fill the role with a member of the Royal Family.”
Andreas looked horrified. “You can’t send Julia back there. She lost Tarek when we took the city back from the pirates. It would kill her to have to be reminded of it every day.”
Raoul smirked. “Well of course. Besides, the Crown Princess needs to be here, to entertain the various international envoys who will be arriving soon.”
Andreas dropped into a chair. He didn’t even ask permission. “What have you done?”
“I’ve arranged for you to be the next City Governor of Port Watch. They wanted Julia at first but I told them I’ve put word out in the right places that there may be an appetite for an international alliance through marriage, should the right opportunity arise, and the Crown Princess of the Scattered Isles is quite a prize.”
“I’m going to be sick.” Andreas did look rather green. Instead though, he took several deep breaths, eyes fixed on Raoul.
Raoul squirmed. That was the look Andreas got just before flattening some poor officer or military trainer in the practice ring.
Finally, Andreas stood. “If the proposal is put to me, I will accept the role, to spare Julia. You do me no favours though, little brother. I saw Tarek cut down, no doubt I will see it again many times before my time there is over.”
Raoul scoffed. “You’ll be fine.”
Andreas shook his head. “You’re all book learning and arrogance, Raoul, no experience or empathy. Our parents have done you a disservice in keeping you tucked safely in the palace your whole life. One day, that is going to change, the real world is going to hit you, and I hope I’m there to see it.”
With that he spun and headed for the door. As he opened it, he glanced back. “And don’t think to go behind Julia’s back with that treaty idea. She can, and will, have you sent to a monastery. A closed one with a vow of silence.”
Raoul glared at the door as it closed behind his brother. Why did he have to take all the fun out of it? He’d been so clever and now Andreas was bound to be running off to tell Julia all about his careful work. She, in turn, would go and complain to their parents.
Well, he just had to get to them first.
He stood and strode purposefully across the room, his face set (he hoped) in stern lines. He turned the door handle and pulled. The door refused to budge. He jiggled the handle and wriggled it back and forth. It stayed closed.
A stone dropped into his stomach as he looked down. The key was missing from its place below the handle. Andreas had taken it, and locked him in.
Order in the Court
Andreas strode down the corridor from Raoul’s rooms, teeth clenched and breaths deliberately deep and slow.
He paused and uncurled his fists, it took a couple of tries but they opened, and he dropped the key he’d been holding onto a nearby table.
Yes, locking Raoul in was petty and childish, and he’d probably hear all about it from their mother later, but he had to get away from that smug, down-the-nose look or he’d have put his fist right through said nose.
And he needed to find Julia. Raoul was getting out of hand and his sister was the only one with the authority to rein him in. Strictly speaking, his parents did too, but they chose to indulge and encourage their youngest instead.
He found Julia in the library. She followed him to a quiet window seat and sat, curling around to face him.
Andreas grimaced. “That obvious? Raoul.”
Julia sighed. “What’s he done this time?”
“What’s he done that’s been endorsed by the council you mean. Set up and signed a declaration that makes me the next City Governor of Port Watch.”
“What?! He can’t.”
“Apparently he can, he’s the Prime Minister’s new advisor after all.”
Julia rubbed her forehead. “They’ll have to send someone else. You can’t go back there.”
“He said it had to be either you or me, but he wants you here so he can use you as bait for marriage treaties.”
That did it, her eyes narrowed.
Before she could speak, he added. “Don’t think you’re going in my place. The thought of going back is making me ill, but the thought of you going back is worse.”
She frowned at him, he stared back. She was the only one who could see past his façade, he knew she’d see the sincerity.
She sighed and shook her head. “Why do I have to have one brother who’s too arrogant for his own good and one who’s too damn noble. Fine, I’m going to have a little chat to our Prime Minister about authority and boundaries, then we’ll set about getting you ready for your new appointment.”
He looked at her, uncertain. It was something, but it felt a little, half-hearted. Didn’t this call for a stronger reaction?
She smirked. “Oh, didn’t I mention? We’ll all forget about it in the hubbub of your leaving, but I’ll be on the same ship as you. I have business to attend to at the Court-of-All-Nations.”
He sniggered. Julia cold always be relied on.
A voice called in the corridor, Andreas groaned. The little toad had managed to get out more quickly than he’d hoped.
Julia asked. “Why is mother calling your name in her unhappy voice?”
He looked sideways at her. “Maybe because, being the mature and even-headed adult that I am, I locked Raoul in his rooms?”
That made her snort, and their mother found the two of them side by side, chortling.
“Andreas, why must you be so unkind to your brother. He’s just trying to help.”
Julia and Andreas turned to stone, the smiles wiped from both faces, and their mother faced a pair of identical, emotionless masks.
They didn’t bother replying, simply standing, bowing, and leaving the room, heading for the sparring yards to work off the misery and frustration of a battle over a year past that refused to let go, and the blindness of a family who couldn’t understand.
The next few weeks were busy. Andreas refused to leave without his books, or his weapons. He also needed a new wardrobe according to his mother, who failed to notice or be suspicious of his unusual compliance.
Neither she, nor his father, noticed that a number of the trunks were marked a little differently, nor that the palace’s seamstresses were as busy on outfits for a woman as for Andreas.
Julia joined her parents on the trip to the wharf, to see Andreas off on his journey. Raoul was still abed, he was not a morning person.
Andreas was a little disappointed to be missing the look on his brother’s face when Julia slipped from her father’s side, and went to follow Andreas up the gangway.
Their mother called. “Don’t go aboard, Dearest, the captain’s set to sail immediately.”
Julia turned. “Yes, I know, we want to make good time in order to deliver Andreas to Port Watch, before taking me on to the Court-of-All-Nations.”
Queen Raina paled. “You can’t. Raoul has plans.”
Julia’s smile was more a snarl. “So do I, Mother, and do recall which of the two of us is the heir to your throne.”
With that, she turned and marched up the gangway, stepping aboard the ship before either parent could react.
The Captain, a colleague from Julia’s Navy days, hauled up the gangway as soon as the princess’s boots cleared the board and began the order chain to cast off, and set sail.
Andreas looked back at their fuming parents. “Is it a good idea to leave Raoul unchecked with those two?”
Julia put her hand on his shoulder. “He’s not unchecked. As heir, I have a seat on the council with veto on any proposals from the Prime Minister. He and I had a nice little chat and he will be taking Raoul’s advice with a little more caution in future but, just in case, I’ve given Lord Octran my vote by proxy.”
Andreas grinned. That was a weight lifted. Lord Octran had been one of their tutors, and was deeply committed to the wellbeing of the kingdom. Even without the power of Julia’s vote behind him, he would be an active and convincing voice against any of Raoul’s more ridiculous power grabs.
He looked back at their family home, receding rapidly as the ship’s sails caught the eager wind. “For all I’m not happy to be going to Port Watch, I’m worryingly glad to be leaving the palace.”
Julia leaned against him. “It’s not been home since the battle has it.”
Since they lost Tarek. No, it hadn’t.