I hear shouting in the anteroom but remain seated, I’ll find out soon enough, and if there’s real trouble, the footman at each door will take care of it.

As the thought forms, the footman opens the door between my room and the outer one. He remains carefully poker-faced as my next candidate enters, herding a quivering-lipped Rosa in front of her.

I’m up and across the room before I realise it. I see far too much of my younger self in the child’s expression, I crouch to take her hand. “What’s happened?”

Rosa starts to cry and the candidate beside her crouches as well, to wrap a comforting arm around the girl’s shoulders. She ducks her head at me. “I apologise, Your Highness, Lady Mary was…”

I halt her search for words. “I am aware of Lady Mary’s opinions.”

I stand and lead both of them to the seating area. There’s enough room on my seat for Rosa as well and I steady her with a cup of weak, milky tea before turning my attention to her champion.

She is standing, waiting for my invitation to sit, an impressive adherence to protocol in a situation where it could justifiably be forgotten. I ask her to be seated with a warmer smile than any of the others so far.

Once she’s settled, with a slightly less milky cup of tea, I ask again. “What happened?”

The young woman opposite me replies. “When we arrived, we saw Princ…Miss Rosa reading, and one of the others started a conversation with her about her book. Lady Mary arrived and insisted that the conversation stop as noblewomen did not associate with baseborn worms.”

She flushed scarlet as I snorted. “Did she comprehend the staggering hypocrisy of her pronouncement?”

Rosa had recovered enough to answer, nodding towards her new friend. “Not until Lady Sara pointed it out. That was when she decided she would be going first in the interviews.”

“Probably worried once of you would carry the tale before she had a chance to make a good impression.”

Rosa looked up at me, expression worried. “Did she make a good impression?”

I nudge her and offer a tiny smile. “Did she look or sound happy with our interview when she left?”

She smiles back, small, but there, thank goodness. “No, she called the other ladies spineless sycophants and threw my book in the fire as I was too vile and low to be allowed to read.”

My jaw drops. “She did what?”

Lady Sara nods. “I’m afraid we couldn’t rescue the book, Your Highness, and I believe it’s that loss, rather than Lady Mary’s insults, that has upset Miss Rosa.”

I narrow my eyes. “I wonder if Lady Mary knows I’m expected to relate today’s interactions to His Majesty and his closest advisors after dinner this evening.”

I squeeze Rosa’s hand. “Go and make a list of all the books you most want to read, as well as the spoiled one, I’m going to have Lady Mary’s father buy as many of them for you as I can wheedle out of him.”

Lady Sara giggles, then flushes.

I need to get on with this interview. “Thank you, Lady Sara, for coming to the rescue of my friend. Could you please tell me why you would like a role as one of my attendants?”

The rest of the conversation goes swimmingly, Lady Sara isn’t quite as engaging as Lady Genevieve but I think we’ll get along nicely and she’s enthusiastic at the idea of seeing more of the world.

I take a chance at the end and say. “In confidence, you know all the ladies I’m speaking far better than I possibly can. Do you have any advice on who I might favour?”

After all, if she’s going to be one of my maids in waiting, it wouldn’t do to have her lifelong enemy there alongside her, far too many headaches.

To her credit, she answers honestly. The one who started the conversation with Rosa, and one of the girls in the final group are her closest friends and she feels they’d serve me well. She adds with a smile. “Although I’m biased of course. I also believe Lady Genevieve would be a wonderful person to attend you.”

She makes no comment on any of the others, and I don’t push my questions, simply thanking her as the footman sees her out.

Rosa stays with me for the remaining two interviews in that group. By the time we’ve refreshed ourselves, she’s her merry self again and insists on going back out into the main area, this time with a pen, ink, and paper to make her list.

There are no further dramas in the anteroom, and I finish the day in agreement with Lady Sara. She and her two friends are to be the attendants I ask for, the conundrum of Lady Genevieve is one I need to think on a little further.

My report that night takes place in the King’s study. In addition to Steward Pendred and the Chancellor, the Duke of Doughton and two others are in attendance. I make my request and the Duke frowns. “And my daughter?”

I clasp my hands before me and turn to face him. “I will not be comfortable with an attendant who sneers at my birth behind my back.”

He opens his mouth to reply but Pendred clears his throat. “I believe you have yet to speak with your wife, Your Grace, however you should be aware, your daughter found her, sewing with several other ladies, and proceeded to complain about Miss Rosa, Her Highness, and more specifically, the report on herself that Her Highness referred to in directing several of her questions.”

The Steward colours slightly as he continues. “I’m afraid Lady Mary was both indiscrete and loud. A number of unfortunate incidents she was involved in last season are now the talk of the court.”

The Duke looks to the King and, at my father’s nod, leaves the room.

The king looks thoughtful. “Only three attendants, daughter? You may have more.”

I decide to put my conundrum to him. “There is a fourth, Your Majesty, Lady Genevieve…”

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