Marya dashed from the bakery, skipping across the road to where Leila was waiting. “Did you hear? It IS going to be the Prince. We’re going to have a royal governor.”
Leila replied. “Lady Oren told us when she came into the shop today. She’s decided to leave the island, something about old ways and new.”
Marya huffed. “Oh, that’s a pity. Where is she going?”
Leila sighed. “I’m not sure she knows, she just feels it’s time for her to leave.”
“Maybe the Prince can change her mind. He’ll need a hostess after all.”
They made their way to Juanita’s kitchen. News like this insisted on a family dinner.
The trip was a smooth one, and they berthed in Port Watch ahead of schedule. Andreas watched as his various trunks and boxes were offloaded, then turned to his sister.
“You’ve got hours before the tide turns. I know you want to get out and keep going, but at least come and see where I’ll be living.”
Julia sighed, then nodded. “Very well, I know I’m being irrational about the place and it would be sensible to give myself some new memories of it.”
They disembarked and Andreas signalled his guard captain, Xavier. “Julia’s accompanying us to the Governor’s House.”
Xavier gave his usual half cut-off bow, as if it was too much bother when he had more important things to attend to. “Very good, Sir. I’ll see to an additional horse. Will Your Highness be bringing any of your guards along?”
Julia jerked her head back. “Just the usual suspects.”
Her two main guards nodded to Xavier, who huffed. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into a carriage.”
Andreas replied. “Not without some serious favours being owed. I want to see the place and I daresay it’s important that the place sees me, and Julia.”
They were in discussions about the best route through the city when a voice bellowed down the wharf.
“Well blow me down with a feather if it ain’t His Highness in the flesh, trying to sneak into town like it’s no big occasion.”
Andreas tried to contain his laugh, calling back. “You’re a wily troublemaker, Petros and already stirring up trouble for me.”
The old soldier came rolling down the roadway, clapping Xavier on the shoulder before doing the same to Andreas and treating Julia to a deferential duck of the head. “Pardons Your Highness, didn’t realise it was you here too.”
Julia smiled at him. “In penance, you can be our guide to Andreas’s new abode.”
Petros grinned and nodded, then frowned. “Does Her Ladyship know you’re here already? I heard tell she wanted to be out before you arrived, didn’t want it to be awkward.”
Andreas and Julia traded glances before he replied. “I’d guess she doesn’t. We’re early and had managed a low profile until your announcement.”
Petros snorted. “Everyone knows you’re here, they’re just not wanting to crowd. Except the Hill lot, who will probably put together some sort of official welcome delegation, which is why none of the Old Town are telling yet.”
Julia looked alarmed. “All the more reason to get off this wharf then. Lead on Master Petros.”
Petros did so, his flush and his grin telling Andreas the older man was tickled pink at having his name recalled by the Crown Princess.
It was a small, determinedly merry cavalcade that made its way up the Hill. Petros waved them off at the main gate and headed back down the hill to a certain, convenient inn.
They were met at the door of the Governor’s House by Lady Oren, who sank into a deep curtsey, worry lines marring her brow.
“Your Highnesses, I am so sorry. I’ll be out by this evening and leave you in peace.”
Andreas put out a hand, helping her to rise, then carefully placing her hand on his arm. “Lady Oren, please do not hurry yourself. Indeed, I would be incredibly grateful if you agreed to stay on for a little while, to ease me in to the island’s ways, and show me around this beautiful home you’ve created.”
Julia moved to join them as they walked inside. “Indeed, Lady Oren, I would feel much happier if I knew I was leaving my brother with an able advisor, at least for a little while. It’s selfish, when you must be wanting to get on to the next chapter of your life, but even a few days would be helpful.”
They gently steered her around the building, admiring the large, comfortable rooms and arched doorways, leading out onto a terrace surrounding three sides of the house.
As they spoke, then spoke further over tea, Lady Oren unwound, eventually admitting, with a dab at tear-damp eyes, that she had no idea of what to do next. This island had been her home and her purpose for so long.
Julia sat beside her. “And what do you feel is best for you now? To leave, to find a new adventure? Or to stay and continue to watch over your home?”
Lady Oren paused, her face uncertain.
Andreas leaned forward. “Do remember, it’s not an irrevocable decision. If you stay and get bored, you can leave. If you leave and find yourself homesick, come home.”
He took her hand again. “Lady Oren, you’ve done so much, especially after the Battle and the loss of your husband, now is your time, to follow the winds you choose.”
He was thankful the older lady missed Julia’s eye roll at his flowery language.
Lady Oren gave them both a watery smile. “I feel it would be best to see new places, do new things, at least for a while.”
Julia smoothed down her riding skirt, and said. “Would you consider, as an initial destination, the Court-of-All-Nations?”
Andreas nearly applauded. Brilliant idea. Lady Oren was a skilled and experienced diplomat and someone who clearly was happier with a purpose. Joining Julia’s entourage would benefit them both.
When Lady Oren looked at her in question, the princess smiled winningly. “I’m only here to see Andreas into his new home. The Court-of-All-Nations is my true destination, and your company and advice while I’m there would be invaluable.”
Andreas pretended to sulk. “That’s rich. You ask Her Ladyship to help me get settled and then try to steal my best local advisor away in the next breath.”
That made Her Ladyship laugh, and they hammered out an agreement. Lady Oren would join Julia at the Court-of-All-Nations in a fortnight’s time, giving her time to pack, advise and most importantly, give Andreas suitable warnings regarding the marriageable ladies of the city.
Timon was full of news that evening. Petros had been as close-mouthed as ever, but half the city had seen him riding with the new arrivals, and he eventually admitted to having shown not just the Prince, but the Princess as well, to the Governor’s House.
Marya added more. According to a customer on their way home from the docks that evening, the Princess had already returned to the ship and left, but not before bidding Lady Oren a fond farewell in front of the Governor’s House, and spoke of seeing her again soon.
Leila heard more the following day. As the shop filled for the afternoon with eager customers from the Hill, Lady Oren paid them a visit.
Bianca was the first to greet her. “It’s lovely to see you’re still with us, Your Ladyship, but what’s this we hear about you running off to spend time with the Crown Princess?”
Lady Oren smiled, Leila thought she looked younger, and lighter, than she had for some time. “It’s true. I’m spending a short while with the Prince, seeing him settled. Then I’m to join Her Royal Highness at the Court-of-All-Nations. Although the Prince has assured me a room will always be ready and waiting at the House should I wish to return.”
One of the girls, Leila thought it might have been the incomparable Sophia, sighed and said. “And is he as handsome as they say?”
Lady Oren snorted, returning to her usual manner. “It depends on who ‘they’ are and what it is they’re saying doesn’t it? All I can tell you is he’s got manners any mother would be proud of, a strong sense of duty, and a quick mind. I believe he’ll serve the city well.”
Bianca and Miklos exchanged a glance, Miklos murmuring. “High praise indeed, from someone who knows what it means to serve the city.”
What had been a quiet afternoon suddenly turned frantic, Leila and Dani were sent rushing hither and yon about the shop as women, some of whom hadn’t been near the place since the last change of season, descended en masse.
Leila wondered if the Hill women had been on the lookout for Lady Oren’s errands cart, and had followed it into town to get her verdict on their new Governor and the likelihood of him marrying a local girl.
The latter hope was ruthlessly quashed by the former Governor’s widow. Prince Andreas was not looking for a bride, and was doubtless the subject of any number of marriage treaty approaches in the capital.
However…the crowd leaned in…his guards, attendants, and advisors, not many of them (he preferred to rely on local expertise), all eligible and delightful young men.
The girls looked disappointed, ‘delightful’ was apparently not something they dreamed of in a suitor. Their more practical mothers, on the other hand, were giddy as mayflys. Delightful young men made good husbands and considerate sons-in-law. Heads drew together in happy speculation.
Invitations were sent out two days later for a gathering of Port Watch ‘society’ at the Governor’s House. The day after that, the tailors and seamstresses descended.
By the end of the morning, Miklos sent Dani to the harbourmaster for weather forecasts and shipping schedules.
He shook his head. “We’ve enough stock to see us through this first occasion for the new Governor, but there’ll be more where that came from and the Hill ladies will be wanting to look new and fashionable for every one.”
Dani returned with word of fair weather and friendly winds, but the worried furrow didn’t leave Miklos’s brow until two of his most reliable trading partners docked three days later, fully laden and ready to sell.
Bianca, on the other hand, was ecstatic. The Prince was gathering a board of advisors to assist in the island’s government. The difference between his board and that of Lord Oren was the intent to include seats for people from the Old Town, not just the Hill; and women as well as men.
Leila and Dani, in a rare moment of accord, agreed. Bianca would be in one of those seats.