I couldn’t help the small smile as my sister described what she saw. By then, it had been many years since I’d been to The Spindle, but, from what she had to say, it had not changed much. Still glittering, still awe-inspiring. Knowing what we know now of the fae, it’s all quite incredible. But Clarice escorted my sister right to Roderick Manor, where she came face to face with a weary Rose Roderick and subdued Harrison Roderick, and a teenage boy introduced to her as Robert.
After weeks of evacuating the city and protecting as much of it as he could, Adrian was finally brought into the King’s council room. With no city to care for, his place was by the King’s side, giving his counsel and executing the King’s demands.
It had been one thing to oversee the city, to protect the people and as many of the structures as he could. It was quite another to be involved in the yelling and screaming and red faced men and women who had different ideas on how to fight a war on the water.
He was certain that, if it weren’t for the Count Olidan taking him under his wing when the King was arguing with one of his generals, he would be sitting at the table with his head in his hands. Whether to block out the noise or try to nurse his growing headache, he wasn’t sure.
“This can’t be right,” Adrian muttered to the Count.
Beside him, Lawrence offered a single shouldered shrug. “I suppose court wasn’t the only thing to sour.” His voice turned thoughtful. “For as much trouble as he caused, perhaps it was for the best that James fled and took the handmaiden with him.”
Adrian felt the corners of his mouth turn down. Part of him wanted to grab Abigail’s hand and run, too.
“There was a time,” Lawrence said musingly, “when no man or woman would dare question the King. He may be royal, but he is not ignorant of the ways of war.”
“My Lord?” Adrian asked in surprise.
“Ah, you wouldn’t have been born yet when the Glass Kingdom was involved with disputes between the Sun Kingdom and the Great North.” A fond, yet sad, smile flitted across his face. “That was the reason why Genevive was sent here from the Great North, to strengthen the alliance between us and them.”
“I didn’t know,” Adrian admitted.
Lawrence sighed. “Apparently, neither do some of these buffoons. They forget some of them were still suckling from their mother during that time.” He shook his head. “Gray is an excellent strategist and diplomat. We learned together, and that is why I was sent to the Pearl Kingdom.” His lips pressed into a thin line. “I failed my King and cousin.”
“No,” Adrian said forcefully. “They lied.”
Lawrence waved it away. “No matter. We are here now. Promise me, Adrian, when you and my daughter take the thrones, dismiss the current court and council. It’ll ruffle a good number of feathers, but it’s high time it happened.”
Mutely, Adrian nodded. He suddenly wasn’t quite sure if the roiling in his stomach was from Lawrence’s words or the breakfast he had scarfed down so quickly he hadn’t even tasted it. But, with Abigail glaring at him and refusing to budge an inch, he wasn’t going to not finish what she’d brought.
“Lawrence!” the King suddenly called.
Adrian looked up to see the King striding across the room towards them. His face was a thunderstorm, his fists clenched at his sides. His stormy eyes caught Adrian’s and he gave him a tight nod.
Beside him, Lawrence rose to meet his distant cousin, inclining his head in deference, but Adrian caught the look he shot the rest of the councilors and generals. As the King drew closer by the second, Adrian took a moment to glance at the rest of the room as a moody silence descended. There were pinched lips and red faces and a thin air of hostility.
His eyes snapped back to the King and the Count, though, as soon as the King spoke.
“Lawrence, we leave tomorrow morning on the Maiden’s Dawn.”
The Count Olidan offered a perfectly executed courtly bow. “It would be my honor, Your Majesty. With your leave, I will prepare and inform my family.”
The King nodded once and then turned away.
Adrian quickly stood and caught Lawrence’s sleeve. “Lawrence, you can’t mean to–”
“If my King commands, I shall obey,” Lawrence said quietly, his voice soft and intense. “It is our duty to do so.”
“But if anything happens to you–”
“Then I trust my daughter is safe with you, and her sister as well.”
Adrian frowned. “And the Countess Olidan and Lady Madeline?”
“They shall be looked after as well. My estate is extensive with thanks to my cousin the King. As my wife is not a noble by blood, Camille will become the Countess Olidan if I do not return.”
“And the King–”
“Trusts the kingdom to your hands.”
At that, Adrian was speechless. He’d only just been pronounced heir a few weeks before. He’d had no training or instruction or, indeed, any chance to learn how to rule.
But, by the time the words formed in his mind, Lawrence was gone, as was nearly everyone else. All that remained were two elderly gentlemen, both white haired and reclining in their seats with pipes in hand.
“Young Prince,” one called out. Adrian recognized him as one of the King’s more senior generals, though it had been many years since he’d last worn a uniform, much less fought. “I suppose you are ruler while our King is off to war.”
The other man, a retired councilor apparently recalled by the King, huffed a laugh. “Of course he’ll need to be. Our Queen is much too busy with matters within the castle.”
“I suppose,” Adrian responded, moving to clasp his hands behind his back. He nodded to both men, eyeing them. “I see the King trusts you.”
The general knocked his pipe against the table. “A whole lot more than the rest of this lot. I was all ready to retire to Pauley Meadows when His Majesty called me back to his war room.” He gestured with the pipe to indicate the whole room. “And I can see why. These young ones think they know better.”
The councillor laughed outright this time. “Who can blame him? They’re untried, untested.” He eyed Adrian, who managed to not squirm under his appraisal, but barely. “And you, lad. Crown Prince for all of a handful of weeks.”
Adrian pressed his lips together, recognizing a test when he saw one. He nodded once. “That is true. With His Majesty on the front, I will require all the advice available to me. I trust you understand when I say there are no better voices than the ones in this room.”
It was the general’s turn to cackle. He turned to the other elderly man. “The boy is smart, Ephraim.”
The councillor, Ephraim, smiled. It wasn’t exactly the kind of smile that made Adrian feel comfortable, but, if his uncle had called for them, he ought to consider putting his trust in them. He made a note to speak to his uncle and Lawrence before the men departed.
Murmuring something vague about another meeting, Adrian bowed to the men and withdrew from the room. His quick footsteps echoed, following him out the door.
But Adrian didn’t immediately move off down the hall. He stayed just around the corner of the door, glad the plush carpeting along the hallway would have deadened the sound of his footsteps had he kept walking.
“What do you think of the lad?” he heard the councilor ask.
“Young,” the general said musingly.
Adrian bristled at that and he grit his teeth. He would not be a puppet. Lawrence had the right of it: dismiss the entire court and start over.
“With the King out of the way, we can finally get things back on track,” the councilor said. “The city has far too much power.”
“Forget the city,” the general said, his words accompanied by the knocking of his pipe on the table. “There’s a war to be won. The boy will have a lot on his shoulders very soon. We need to ensure we can position him where we need him.”
A sigh, then Adrian heard the councilor speak. “Yes, I suppose that makes the most sense. After all, the city has been evacuated.” His voice turned bitter. “And much of the business with it.”
“Don’t worry too much, Ephraim. We’ll restore the city and the kingdom to its former glory soon enough. You’ve finally preparations with the girl?”
“I have. She still has a couple of details to take care of, but I’m ready to move when she is.” There was a pause. “She’ll work her magic soon enough, merchant’s daughter she is.”
“Excellent,” the general murmured.
The two men quickly moved on to more personal matters, asking after children and grandchildren. Adrian vacillated, his body, rocking from heel to toe as the men chattered on. Part of him wanted to rush in and, at the very least, imprison the men for conspiring against the Crown Prince, but another part of him wanted more information. What did they mean when they said he would have a lot on his shoulders? And what did a merchant’s daughter have to do with anything? He couldn’t help thinking it felt ominous, but it could be as innocent as the fact that the King was riding off into battle and those two working on a way to bring business back to the city when the war was over.
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