She arrived with the servers and found Lord Stanyard with the Guards and the bell.
“Your – Majesty.” Stanyard cleared his throat. Principea and Stanyard had, on occasions, found themselves at odds. But surely not over a morning meal.
“Come along, Stanyard, grab the other sideboard, here’s a tray.” Principea gestured to the other tray of food. If the boys were in there, more food would need to be sent up, but likely they were still asleep, for one of her ladies-in-waiting told her there had been quite a ruckus down in the Lords’ Quarters. Principea had sighed and known it to be her sons. Hosting two other princes, she expected when they rose around midmorning, red-eyed and achy, last night’s merriment would be a woeful memory.
At present, however, Stanyard’s expression looked a combination between hilarity and apprehension.
“Relax, Stanyard, it’s only breakfast.” Principea pushed the double doors to her husband’s study open. Stanyard held them open for her as she wheeled both sideboards in.
“Your Majesties, I’ve brought you breakfast. You have all been closeted in this room for a week now, and in able for you to think clearly, you need to have a good meal to start off the day.
“You, my lord of Delsynth, need a shave. This is a Council of Kings, after all, not a hunting trip with your best mates.
“Uncle, the same for you as well, and tighten up that surcoat, Sir. My lord of Romeny,” she called to Rhutgard. “Were you all here so late then? I don’t recall you coming in last night.”
He was facing the wall, fascinated by a map, it seemed. She circled her arm about his shoulder.
Rhutgard’s entire face was a mass of purple and black bruises. Two black eyes. His lip split in two places. Marks on his face where a ring looked to have hit it. Scratches upon his neck.
He wouldn’t meet her eyes but had the grace to look guilty.
She sniffed and shook her head. “Ah, I can see where you did spend the night. If it was in a bed, it was in the Healer’s Wing….” Principea wouldn’t have thought he still had it in him. Truly, the stress in here must have been insurmountable.
“Really? That’s all the sympathy you have for me?” Rhutgard wanted to know.
Principea smiled and walked away. “That depends upon your opponent.” She stood in the front of the Study the men had styled the War Room. They and the lads were the only people in and out of here, and Lord Stanyard, of course. So who else might there have been….
Ah. “My lord of Hardewold. How fare you this morning?” She glided across the Study to King Reaghann, who was staring out the window, his back to her.
Principea stepped next to him and looked up at his face. Reaghann heaved a guilty sigh and looked down. His face looked quite like her Rhutgard’s. Black and swollen eyes, bruises all over his face, split lip, small cuts most likely, she thought, from the rings of office Rhutgard wore. It would be a while before either of their faces healed.
Well, good. Fighting like boys.
To the rest of the room, she rose an eyebrow and asked, “Dare I ask what this was about?”
“Principea, ’twas nothing but a boxing match,” came Rhutgard’s voice.
Her gown rustled behind her as she stepped to the side of the room where Rhutgard cowered.
“A boxing match?” She chortled.
Rhutgard turned and glared at her from between red, swollen eyelids.
“Don’t you turn those lying Romeny blues at me, my lord of Romeny,” she scolded. Principea turned to Uncle. “What do we say in Ghiverny, Uncle? Romeny eyes hide the best lies?”
Rhutgard turned around and glared at Uncle. “Are you taking up with her now?”
Uncle coughed and took a step back. “I’m on nobody’s side in this – keep me out.” He held his hands up.
“So what really was this about, boys? What started it?” Men – all of them the same. It didn’t matter if they were eight, fifteen, thirty, or fifty, they never got past that need to prove themselves. And she had two twin boys, both exactly like their father, so it had been much like raising male triplets, just one of them older in years.
First came Uncle – “Wine.”
Next came Rickstan – “A woman.”
Then Driscoll – “The length of their –”
Principea immediately interrupted him. “Lord Driscoll!”
“…swords. I was going to say, swords, Madam. What? I was,” Driscoll insisted. Rarely had Principea ever seen this group in such a state. And Driscoll had always been the most stately of them all, the Silver Statesman, Rhutgard called him a few times in private with her, for the elder king was always so dignified and so skilled at diplomacy.
Uncle snorted laughter suddenly, as he was wont to do. “Possibly all three.”
Principea glanced in the direction of her husband. “My lord of Romeny, I despair of you. I ought to send you to your bed to rest and then I might take over as Eastern Shield for a day. And I guarantee you,” Principea pointed at all the Kings around the room, “half this Land’s problems would be solved in a day. All it takes is a woman’s perspective on things.”
“A woman’s perspective – ha. Just what we need,” grumped Rhutgard.
Suddenly, Rickstan and Reaghann coughed in unison. Rhutgard shot them both a nasty look.
Uncle cleared his throat then. “Rhudy, it’s actually not a bad idea,” he said in a steady tone.
Her husband surprised her by nodding, though she could see his head was probably pounding. As was Reaghann’s. Ridiculous. She wondered what had truly brought them to blows.
“Very well, then. Lord Stanyard, if you would ring for a servant to have the boys sent to us, please.”
She wandered over to King Reaghann. “You, my lord Hound.”
He looked down at her warily. He probably thought she was going to scold him. And, of course, most people were wary of her, for she was the wife of the most powerful man in the Land, after all.
“You need a wife.”
King Reaghann started to laugh but saw her insistent glare and immediately changed his laugh to a cough. “So I’ve been told, Madam.”
“You shall need to do so soon, before your… dog… can no longer… hunt.” She glanced downward briefly, then met his gaze again. Principea enjoyed watching his green eyes grow round at her meaning, for she was being quite direct without being outright specific.
He swallowed and finally replied, “I enjoy a – great deal of – hunting, and I don’t anticipate any issues arising, so to speak. I thank you for your kind regard.”
Principea chuckled. Privately, Rhutgard had wondered about which country the Hound would eventually cast his eye upon. She smacked the Hound in the ribs with her fan. He winced.
“Rhutgard always has had a wicked upper cut,” Principea smiled sweetly.