Family and Friendship

I explain how delightful and accomplished she is, then outline my concern over tearing her away from her home and family. He listens, tapping a finger on his chin, then tilts his head at the Chancellor in question.

The Chancellor looks thoughtful for a moment longer, then smiles. “She could spend time with you, becoming familiar with the roles and requirements of a maid in waiting, then, when you leave, she can remain to become the new queen’s first attendant.”

It’s a wonderful solution and I’m relieved to hear my father approve it immediately.

I’m about to take my leave when the Duke returns. He bows to me. “Your Highness, I apologise for my daughter’s disgraceful words and behaviour. She is being removed from the palace tomorrow morning. Is there anything I can do to make reparations?”

I smile at him. “Thank you but I feel the one most upset by her this afternoon was Rosa, and while she seems to have brushed off the harsh words quickly enough, she is terribly upset at the loss of her book.”

My father snaps his attention to me. “Her book?”

“A collection of poems she particularly loved,” he’d given it to her for her last birthday, when she was still his daughter, “Lady Mary threw it in the fire and the others in the room were unable to save it.”

The horrified, guilty looks around me suggest they all know the personal value of the book and I offer a smile along with Rosa’s list. “I was able to cheer her a little by challenging her to write down every one of her favourite books.”

It was the king who took it from my hand. He scanned it, crossed out the book at the top, then passed the page on to the Duke. “Have as many of these as you can find delivered to Rosa’s room tomorrow.”

He looked at me. “I will replace the poetry book, does Rosa take tea with you often?”

“She’s moved into my apartments with me, Sire.”

That surprises him, which surprises me, he knows she’s still here, even though the queen and her sons have gone. Doesn’t he know she’s staying because of me?

I get no answers, simply a kind, and I’d like to believe, fond, dismissal. Rosa’s still awake when I get back to my rooms and I tell her I think she might get one or two new books in the coming days.

She falls asleep happy, and I tumble in to bed as well. There are no interviews tomorrow thank goodness.

No interviews but the congratulatory letters from my former neighbours have begun to arrive. All claiming delight over my elevation and their long-standing fondness of me. Complete rubbish the lot of them. Pendred casts an equally cynical eye over the pile and assigns me a secretary.

The names of my attendants are announced, and whispers circulate about Lady Mary. They’ll die off soon enough. Between my father’s quest for a new wife, and my own likely summons to the High Kingdom, the twittering birds of the court with have new songs to sing very soon.

I invite my new ‘friends’ to take tea with me, at which time I introduce Rosa, and warn them of the nature of my ruler-mark and its implications. I can see poor Genevieve turning pale, and so I share the Chancellor’s plan with her. I’d convinced him to agree to extend the same courtesy to the other three and I make the offer. They all volunteer to accompany me, and I can see in their eyes they hope for the adventure.

As do I. Court is interesting, but the stain of my birth continues to lurk, despite my father’s best efforts. I wonder if the High Kingdom will prove any kinder.

There is no sign or word from Zarn, although I’m not sure why I’m surprised. I do not stir beyond my chambers unaccompanied. Should I ask to cross the public Gardens of the Scared Spring, in order to enter the city beyond, by myself, I believe I’d be barred from leaving the palace buildings at all.

As it is, our daily promenade in the gardens, sedate and carefully choreographed, is the only time I feel able to breathe fully. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m having fun. It’s glorious to be deferred to and lauded by people who, two months ago, would not have spared me the time of day.

I’m constantly asked for news on the hunt for my new step-mama, I hear enough through Mrs Pendred to be considered a fertile source of information. They all think it comes from my regular afternoon teas with the king. In fact, they’re an excuse for him to see Rosa. He misses her but cannot be seen to show her favour. He finds ways around it, bestowing pretty titles and annuities on all my maids in waiting, including the youngest.

She also becomes the proud owner of one of the more impressive personal libraries in the palace. Including a certain little tome of poems, that may have her name written in a carefully careless scrawl on the title page.

Suddenly we’re all abuzz, a candidate for Queen has been found, a young widow with a child the same age as Rosa. I wonder if I’m to lose two attendants on my departure. For, yes, the High King has replied. I’m cordially invited to visit them, with a view to an alliance with the High Prince.

I beseech the Spymaster (contrary to common assumptions, it’s a woman, most useful) to compile whatever she can on the Kingdom, its court, and most especially its heir. Her information is distressingly sparce. I believe at least one of the serving maids preparing to accompany me will have a dual role.

My departure is held long enough for me to pay my respects to the possible future queen. I’m not sure if my father wants my opinion, or more likely Rosa’s on this candidate and her child, or if he wants to make a point to her about his ability to sire children.

She’s delightful, warm, and kind, but clever with it. She won’t be taken for a fool by the nastier elements of court and she and Genevieve bond immediately. As do her daughter and Rosa. I’m sad to leave my little princess advisor behind but His Majesty is delighted, and Rosa promises to write. Since she pens notes to her mother at least once a week, I hold some hope of the occasional missive.

The betrothal is announced, and celebrated, and then Her Majesty is helping me prepare and pack for my own probable wedding. I hope she will write to me as well, she’s the elder sister I’ve always wished for without realising.

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