After Ronan’s information of rumormongering in the ranks, Rhutgard wanted immediately to speak with Mirelle. He had seen her in passing, of course, and during the Seasonal.
And she was beautiful. So much like Principea. And the boys as well – her mannerisms somehow, so odd how she would somehow mirror them upon occasion, even though she’d never seen them until two months ago. And she had Principea’s laugh.
Rhutgard had wanted to let Mirelle settle in before he and Principea pressured her. But since the Seasonal, with the War Council… he sighed. Time had flown past.
He wanted to check on her and see how Mirelle was handling the stress of the Court’s reaction to where she had been raised. Rhutgard made sure, in the statement, to say that she had grown up far away from Fairview Palace.
So far as everyone at The Brew House and Tavern knew, “Ellia” went to stay with a sick aunt down south in the small town of Himbledon and then married a man just recently. A woman matching Ellia’s description was, indeed, now living in Himbledon with a gentleman there. All, of course, financed by the Crown.
A number of nosy people had stopped in Himbledon recently, according to Rhutgard’s undercover guards. Many of the townspeople there, not knowing better, confirmed that a young woman named Ellia was, indeed, living among them now, and recently married.
Ellia’s actual stand-in stayed home quite a lot and rarely went to town now, preferring her quiet, married life after such a busy life in the city of Fairview, and no one thought anything of that.
Meanwhile, the real Ellia, Mirelle, had adjusted beautifully to Court life and was working unbeknownst to all, with a tutor on many subjects she had not learned with Nona. Her tutor gave Principea reports and Principea adjusted her education as needed.
But now that the gossip had begun, Rhutgard feared her carefully structured face of self-assurance might crack. It was one thing to adjust to a new life, he thought, but another when those in it were whispering terrible things about you.
Rhutgard had hated to announce such information, but he and Principea had agreed that it was necessary, for if they did not and she was recognized by someone in Fairview, then it would look as if he had simply been unfaithful and Mirelle adopted as a between-the-sheets illegitimate child that he had just discovered. And also best to announce it immediately, while the people were still adjusting to the thought of her, rather than after they had formed a solid opinion of her.
And before the war, he thought with a grimace, for now she was last in his immediate line of succession. He knew half of the country wondered why he had hidden her away, but he needn’t explain his actions to anyone. Daughters carried the bloodline truest. They hadn’t been present at the time she and the twins had been born. But he knew a number of people had read the most recent copies of the History of the Era’s. Perhaps that would serve to convince them.
“Father? Mother?” Mirelle asked as she stopped before them. They looked over the empty Great Hall.
Rhutgard could see Mirelle studying the last of the bruises on his face, though she said nothing.
“Mirelle,” said Principea, “we wanted to speak with you and see how you’ve been faring recently. We know things haven’t been… easy for you… and for that, we’re so sorry, dear.”
Rhutgard took in the sight of Mirelle’s lady-in-waiting, posed respectfully several paces back in honor of Mirelle’s current company. More of an attack dog, he thought, than a lady-in-waiting. Rhutgard recalled that Mirelle arrived here at Fairview with the girl in place, so quite possibly Nona had installed her with Mirelle, in which case, he whole-heartedly approved.
Mirelle bowed her head with respect. “I am doing well enough. It was nothing I did not anticipate. I have dealt with worse.” She smiled slightly, and Rhutgard suddenly recalled that the girl had, after all, worked in a tavern with loud and bawdy drunks on a regular basis. Between Mirelle’s growing up under Luvian’s watchful eye and her attack lady-in-waiting, Rhutgard wondered with a tiny bit of amusement if it wasn’t the Court he should be inquiring of their health instead.
“And your brothers? Are they minding their manners, I hope?” Rhutgard inquired. “Because if not, tell me, and –”
“Rhutgard, don’t scare her,” Principea tugged at his arm.
Mirelle smiled. “They are wonderful. They have been very kind.”
“Excellent,” Rhutgard relaxed. They were good boys, his twins, but they did have a penchant for pranks. And teasing. They had run this Palace ragged when they were young lads – he couldn’t count the amounts of glares he’d get from the servants because of those boys. It wasn’t his fault they were wild.
“We just want to make sure you feel as much at home as we can here, dear,” Principea told her.
Mirelle nodded and smiled. “I know.”
Though she had smiled, Rhutgard thought she looked a little sad.
“What is it, child? Is it the Court? You needn’t make regular appearances right now.”
Mirelle shook her head. “No, no, I can handle the Court.” She looked up as she told him that.
Pleased, he had just enough time to wonder what upset her before the girl said, “It’s just that – I miss my cat….” The sides of her mouth turned down sorrowfully.
“Oh, Mirelle. I’m so sorry.” Principea’s voice was full of sympathy. “We have a number of cats about the Palace….”
“I know. But this one was mine. He was a stray cat that we took in. Pappy named him Captain, and everyone there would salute him whenever he came around….”
Rhutgard coughed then and cleared his throat, trying not to glare. Luvian. What a –
Principea’s voice was decidedly merrier when she said, “I can’t think of a better name for a stray cat. He sounds like a wonderful pet. Why don’t we find you a kitten, darling, and you can have a new cat.”
Mirelle nodded and smiled, sentiment still clouding her eyes.
“You be sure to tell us, or your brothers, if you need anything at all,” Rhutgard told her as she was retreating down the steps.
After she was gone, Principea let out with her burst of tinkling laughter.
“Captain. Luvian, that man –” Rhutgard shook his head.
Principea told him, “Rhutgard, it was out of affection, you know that. Just his way of having you around a little. And for her.” She laughed again. “What a great name. And they all salute him.”
He snorted. “I’m glad you find this so amusing.” Then he looked down at her. “You know what? I’m going to get a huge, giant, hairy dog – a Wolfhound, that’s it. And I’m going to name it Lieutenant. And he’ll have to follow me everywhere I go. What do you think of that, Sweet Pea?” Ha. Rhutgard thought that was funny. Take that, Luvian.
She laced her hand in his as they started walking away. “Why would you do that? He’d just bark at you and bite you in the behind.”