A Silent Game of Spies

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She always took her morning meals, and often her afternoon meals, outside. She believed one could never get enough fresh air. The sun had the converse effect, and she had taken great care to always wear a hat and sit beneath a tented gazebo or in the shade. So many ladies of her age hadn’t cared for their skin over the years and now had wrinkles and age spots they might have prevented.

Elenorina sipped at her fruit juice. She did not care for tea so much as fruit juice, for tea stained one’s teeth. So many of the older generation had stained teeth, and her own mother and aunts confided that they believed it had to do with daily tea consumption, so they advised that Elenorina drink it only amongst company.

Her long-dead husband thought such an idea bosh but she hadn’t need to listen to all the things he thought bosh for too long, for he’d finally died at fifty-one of consumption in Fairview. Elenorina suspected Chaz had contracted it from some whore or other in Fairview, for he died in a hospice near a brothel. She had him recovered and buried here with his ancestors, though she’d first removed herself and Chaz II to her mother’s home in Ivy Gate. One could never be too careful, and consumption had not reached that far south.

The thin curtains drifted lazily in the light breeze and she spooned more milk onto her berries. When she glanced up, Elenorina’s new guest was striding down the green to her, accompanied by a house maid.

Hmm. That gait. She shook her head slightly. Too bold – she plodded forward as a horse trotted down the boulevard. That would need amending. Elenorina winced as she saw the girl struggle a bit with the gown that trailed slightly past her. Oh, my, she sighed. This would be quite the undertaking. Rhutgard, Rhutgard, what were you thinking, child….

Now that the girl stood before Elenorina, she took a final sip of chilled fruit juice and then rose.

“My lady,” the house maid curtsied and then left.

“Ah. Lady Ellia. I trust you slept well?”

“Lady” Ellia struggled to appear calm, though her nod was a nervous one to Elenorina’s practiced eye.

Elenorina stepped around her breakfast table and stood before the girl. “Ellia, I want you to know that I know your actual identity, for your father – that is to say, your other father, your Royal father – sent me a notice explaining all. You will be staying with me for a time, and so you can be sure that you are safe here.

“Now, Ellia, my name is Duchess Elenorina Chambourny of Emberly. But you may call me Nona.”

She watched as this washed over the frightened girl.

“Ellia, my dear, I recognize this had been a terrible turn of events. Do understand something, child,” and Elenorina place a few fingers beneath the girl’s chin. She had always wanted a daughter. Granddaughters, and daughters-in-law, especially the grand-daughter-in-law she had now, were just not quite the same. She continued with kindness, “You grew up with parents who loved you, and who always will love you, dearly….” And Ellia’s blue eyes glistened as they filled with tears.

“But you have a new family, a father and a mother, who have always loved you as well, who cannot wait to meet you.”

Tears spilled down the girl’s face.

“Ah, my child.” Elenorina sighed. She had known this would happen. And why not? Anyone dearly cherished by their parents, then snatched up and removed forever and given a new identity – naturally would be heartbroken.

She pulled out her handkerchief and dabbed gently at Ellia’s face. “Here is your first lesson, my child. Ladies, particularly Princesses, must never cry in public, nor never before other people.”

Elenorina pressed her handkerchief into Ellia’s hand and rolled the girl’s fingers over it so that she might keep it.

“Of course, we ladies are not infallible, are we? So, how do we avoid looking as if we are crying?” Elenorina patted Ellia’s hand and let a small smile play across her face. “You sneeze. Pretend to sneeze into your handkerchief. Twice if must be, but dab at your face and all will believe your tears are a result of your sneeze. Unless you are at table. Never sneeze at table. Cough at table, for other diners will believe you swallowed a bit of food or drink wrong. Then you can dab at your eyes.

Amazement and a bit of amusement illustrated Ellia’s expression. Then the girl yawned. She covered her mouth with the handkerchief right away, and her expression changed to a guilty one.

Elenorina reached out and told her, “Don’t ever yawn. It’s considered terribly rude, the height of rudeness. The best way to keep from yawning is to take in a deep breath through your mouth, the second you feel a yawn starting. Of course, you may yawn in your bed chamber, but never among people, ever.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ellia said, her blue eyes wide.

“Oh, darling, you needn’t be. You don’t know any of these things yet. That, of course, is why you’re here,” Elenorina told her.

“When will I meet them – my other parents, I mean?” she asked.

Elenorina took in a long breath. “Well. You won’t be going there yet. You see, dear, all the people will suddenly discover that they have a new Royal Princess that’s been hidden away. And you must pass muster, as they say, at Court. But they will discover where you grew up, and so… not only must you convince the Court, but also the Romeny people, that you are truly a Romeny Princess. And so you must be perfect, in every way.

“Which, means, my dear, in all kindness, you must first learn to be a Princess.”

Elenorina waited for Ellia to object, but the girl said nothing. “Therefore, while you are here, you will be my charge. I will be instructing you in all things such as History, many of the Arts, your social graces, of course, that will go without saying. Do you ride?”

Ellia blinked at her. “You mean a horse?”

“I’ll take that as a no. We’ll remedy that and start you on some horsemanship lessons.”

She stood back and assessed Ellia. “My, but you do have your mother all about you. And I dare say, some of her mother as I recall. Her slight frame, which is a good thing, though for childbearing…. Well, let that be as will be, you’re young yet. All you really have of your father is – of course, those ruddy eyes. Romeny blue always breeds true, they say. Of course, you do look exactly like your brothers, just a feminine version, so no one will ever question your identity once they see the resemblance. They, of course, have his jaw….”

“Milady Nona…” started Ellia.

“Just Nona please, and you need say “My Lady’ to no one. Though in fact, do be sure to say it as ‘My Lady’, rather than ‘Milady’…”

Ellia flushed. She had beautiful white skin, Nona mused as she waited for Ellia to continue. “Nona, will they… my brothers, I mean, will I, like them? Will they – like me?”

The poor child. She pictured the twin boys. They were rather like Golden Retrievers – happy all the time, easy going, never serious. If anything, Elenorina thought they would adore her, the thought of having a new sister. But she did not want to get the girl’s hopes up. History had shown throughout the generations that sibling turned against sibling when least expected…. Though she did not expect any such thing here.

“Child, I think they will love you.”

Ellia visibly relaxed.

“Now, I’ve arranged for the seamstress and the tailor to attend us, for you must have dresses for all Court occasions ready. You’ll not be wearing them here, understand, but it takes time for them to be designed and crafted. You’ll of course need simple gowns for daily wear about here as well. Such a lovely complexion – light green might suit you, and rose, for blues will just make you fade away beneath those eyes of yours. We’ll let the tailor decide, shall we?”

Just then, Prince Ronan strode into view.

“Well, young Ronan,” Elenorina announced as he approached them.

“My lady, Your Highness.” Ronan bowed.

“Ronan, we agreed that we will not be using that honorific while Lady Ellia visits us, unless we are told otherwise.”

Ronan bowed. “As it please you, my lady. I just received a bird.”

Elenorina did not like being interrupted, and her morning so far with Ellia had just been interrupted. Crossly, she replied, “Did you.”

“I received orders that I was to remain here and – as – Lady Ellia’s personal guard.” Ronan tried to conceal a grimace. Elenorina knew he had worked for some time in a commoner position watching over Ellia, and no doubt was ready for a hiatus. Whether it was a return to Martmain Palace in Ghiverny or some more exciting station within the Army, she did not know, but she hoped he could at least not be an ass while he remained at Emberly.

“Well, you will need to have your belongings transferred from Chaz’s estate to my personal estate so that you might carry out your orders, for Lady Ellia will be staying here with me.”

“Yes, my lady. What will you be teaching her? She already reads and writes, she knows her basic arithmetic –”

“Are you having a Ronnie moment? Did you forget that I am standing right here? You needn’t speak over me as if I’m some sort of child,” Ellia cut in.

At the same time, both Elenorina and Ronan told her, “It’s rude to interrupt.” And then Elenorina continued to Ronan, “Why, History, of course, of all the Countries. Geography, certainly. A bit of the arts. Those subjects in which Princesses are instructed, young Ronan.” Elenorina did not like being questioned – she was accustomed to giving orders, not having her orders questioned.

“Perhaps you might teach her Heraldry, for then she will recognize those in Court to whom she is speaking, for they will test her, just to be merciless.”

“And I shall be instructing her in social graces as well, which you appear to have lost over time. As well as Horsemanship, though perhaps you may do that, as you are acting like a horse’s ass at the moment,” Elenorina snapped.

“Social graces and horse’s asses. You both may not believe this, but I am right here – and you propose to teach me of rudeness while you speak over my head as if I’m not in front of you at all. One subject you needn’t instruct me in is listening – for that I can do just fine!”

Ellia swept her gown around, the golden waves of her hair flying in the air as she strode away.

She had her father’s temper, mused Elenorina, that was clear.

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