At last! My fingers have finally recovered, though they still tire more quickly than I’d like, but at least I have a part of Chapter Twenty-Two up. I hope you enjoy.
My sister was quick to agree to the prince’s plan. Once a matchmaker, always a matchmaker. The prince took her to see the miller’s daughter, who was soft-spoken, but quite self-assured. My sister agreed to serve as her maid, and to dress her as a foreign princess. It was a daring plan as the only land she could pretend to come from was the Lands of Mist. But my sister, niece to a king, and, well, my sister, gleefully took up the challenge. She used everything our mother taught us and turned that girl into a princess, one more than worthy of the prince.
The sun was barely peeking over the horizon in a poor attempt to warm the freezing land, but, already, Adrian was at his cousin’s desk. His desk. Papers and books lay in disarray and a large ink stain had spread across an entire page. James, from the look of it, had been quite poor at the paperwork. Adrian could barely understand what his cousin’s duties were.
Not that it mattered much. The king was preparing for war, so the running of the kingdom had fallen to the new heir.
Growling as he tossed an empty notepad to the side, he flung himself back into James’s chair. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, but Adrian had a feeling James hadn’t actually spent much time in his office. What had his cousin done to occupy his days? Besides fall in love with a handmaiden.
A tentative knock came at the door.
“Your Highness,” a soft, efficient voice said, calling Adrian’s attention to the young woman standing in the doorway.
Kyanan was the second daughter of a count who was established somewhere around the southern tip of the kingdom. She’d been sent to the king’s court to be an attendant to a lady, but James had seen her value as something of a personal assistant and had rescued the long-suffering bright mind from the doldrums of gossiping courtiers. At least, that was how James had always described her to Adrian. She tried to keep James organized and ensured he had everything he needed. But, apparently, she wasn’t allowed to touch his desk.
Adrian regarded the young woman for a moment, taking in her cocoa skin and tightly braided black hair. Her dark eyes stared back at him coolly, waiting. She wasn’t dressed like one of the ladies. There were no skirts and lace. Instead, she was just as efficiently dressed in slim slacks Clarice had made for her, modeled after the pants she’d seen in the linked world, and a sky blue tunic embroidered with dark blue flowers.
“Yes, Kyanan?” Adrian asked tiredly.
Kyanan frowned. “Your Highness, have you slept?”
“No time for that. James left this place a disaster. How am I supposed to figure anything out?”
“Don’t worry, Your Highness. I have everything you need. First is a meeting with the city leaders in two hours. The King is expecting you to assure them the war won’t interfere too much with the way they run the city.”
Adrian very much wanted to snort at that, but didn’t think Kyanan would approve. Instead, he asked, “Is there anything else on my schedule?”
“Plenty, Your Highness.” She hesitated. “But I came to notify you of a fae wish stone ripple.”
That got his full attention, and he sat up straight. “Where?”
She turned her head slightly. “In the forest, just outside the city.”
“Where’s the other side?”
Adrian fell back into his chair and pressed a hand to his face. Of course he did. Where else could James and the handmaiden go but to the linked world?
“Their Majesties are busy attending to war preparations,” Kyanan said. “Would you like me to send knights to The Spindle?”
Adrian waved a hand. “No. It’s no use. James is officially no longer a member of the royal family. Besides, by now he must have gone through the portal.” He sighed and muttered, “But if I ever get my hands on him…”
“I’ll prepare your schedule, Your Highness,” Kyanan said, ignoring his mutterings as he began to shuffle his way through James’s papers and books.
“Yes, thank you, Kyanan,” he said distractedly.
Once her footsteps had retreated down the hall, Adrian gave up and turned to stare out the windows. The sun was over the horizon now, and he suddenly felt the exhaustion hit him. He’d been awake all night, frantically trying to catch up, get to know the court James had been desperate to flee, figure out what the Crown Prince was responsible for. With the King and Queen busy, he’d been left on his own. His own parents had tried to help, but he’d sent them and Andalissa back to Murant Manor in the early hours of the morning. Kyanan had been a lifesaver, but he’d also sent her to bed around midnight.
Adrian jerked around, a scowl prepared on his face. Only his sister could make her voice sound like a smirk. But it dropped the moment he saw who was with Andalissa.
“You should be safe at home,” were the first words out of his mouth, and he immediately knew he deserved the scowls on both women’s faces.
“What makes you think I’ll be safe?” Abigail asked, tilting her head up slightly. “If you’ll remember, my stepsister is still intent on winning your heart.”
He blinked and frowned. “You don’t think she would do something to you, do you?”
Abigail shrugged and looked away, self-consciously tucking a stray strand of hair behind an ear. “I don’t know, but Camille seems to think so.”
His frown deepened. “Then you’ll stay here. Madeline makes me uncomfortable, anyways. It’ll be best for all of us if we see her as little as we can.”
“Well,” Andalissa said, a pleased smile on her face, “I’ll leave you two and go see Camille. A good day to you, Crown Prince.”
“A Crown Prince does not hurl objects,” Abigail said quickly just as he started to sweep his eyes around the room. “I know that look, Adrian.”
He sighed and went around the desk to take her hands. “Abigail, war is coming.”
“Yes, I gathered,” she said, her eyes briefly going to the windows. “I saw preparations this morning on my way to Murant Manor. The docks are closing, the warships are being fitted, soldiers have been flooding in. It’s hard to miss, Adrian.”
“You shouldn’t have been out in it.”
She nodded to the messy desk. “I don’t think I would see you if I hadn’t come. What has James done to his desk?”
“The same thing he’s done to my life: thrown it upside down,” Adrian muttered. “At least your father didn’t make me marry Merike.”
Abigail flinched. “What?”
Adrian shook his head. “What did your father tell you?”
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