As the dance required, he drew Mirelle forward, then apart, then twirled her about. The intricacies of the dance steps did not allow much time for conversation, but, Ronan thought, dance was not meant for conversation.
“And how is Ellia faring tonight?” he asked, deliberately using her former name to jolt her out of what seemed a daze.
She looked at him suddenly and smiled. “Both Ellia and Mirelle’s feet are so sore, she probably won’t walk much tomorrow. But –” and then she returned to his arms, “I have danced with two Kings of State, one, of course, being my father, and the other yours, two Crown Princes, five princes, and so many Dukes that I’ve lost count.
“But –” and she returned to him in a swirled flourish of blue and purple velvet, “I haven’t yet danced with any Guards. Are you supposed to be out here, Ronan, I mean, as a Guard?” asked Mirelle.
“Only because I serve as a Diplomatic Military Ambassador to another country,” Ronan replied, and he patted the medal pinned to his chest that showed the Ghiverny colors on its ribbon.
“Oh, of course,” Mirelle said, and she patted it. “It’s – actual gold, isn’t it….” Then she looked up at him. “Of course, in the shape of a crown.”
Ronan shrugged a little. “So you can say you’ve danced with one Guard and –”
“Three Crown Princes tonight. Right.”
He smiled a bit. Then the music ended. Ronan bowed lowly before her hand, and Mirelle curtsied daintily.
Ronan instinctively realized that they were being watched. “I’ll say Good Night now, or they’ll all talk, you know.”
He stood up as stiffly and properly as he could.
“Talk? About what?” Mirelle asked with confusion.
Ronan couldn’t help but smile. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Good evening, Your Highness.”
Ronan stepped into his father’s guest quarters. Truth be told, he hadn’t seen his father in nearly four years if he figured right, and to have seen him dancing out there on the floor with Queen Principea had made him smile.
“Father? You wished to see me?” He was still, after all, on duty.
“Ronan! My son! Finally – I’m so glad to see you!”
“What? Sir? Toss that. There will be no sir. You are only in that post because I put you there and I’ll just as soon take you out. Now forget that bloody uniform – you are off duty until I say otherwise.”
Ronan had just been issued an order from higher than any commander in Romeny, including King Rhutgard’s, so his face split into a grin and he stepped forward to hug his father.
His father enveloped him in a bear hug, then stood back and held Ronan by the shoulders.
“They told me you were like looking into a looking glass of myself at your age. Damn near it. You’re a bit taller, though, and you’ve got a look of your grandfather to you. Have you seen your brother? He’s here, somewhere about.”
“Yes, Father, I have. I can’t believe how tall he is! He’s taller than I am!”
“Oh, yes – and still growing – eating the kitchens out of the castle, they tell me. And an excellent hunter, fine horseman, fine horseman.”
Father was so proud of Petran. Ronan remembered days when Father spoke of Ronan like that. Then Ronan entered the military on this assignment for Father.
“It’s good to see you, son.” Father leaned against the table and gazed at Ronan. “I would love to have you back at my side at home, planning with me.” He sighed a great sigh. “Truth be told, my son,” and he trailed off and studied the fur on the floor.
“Father?” Ronan was suddenly worried.
Father inhaled deeply and bestowed a tired look upon Ronan. “Truth be told, Ronan, you are doing better for us out here, in the land wide than you could ever do for me at home back in Ghiverny right now.” And he nodded vaguely, suddenly pensive.
“What exactly does that mean?” Ronan asked slowly.
“I put you out there – here –” and Father twirled his hand about suggestively in the air – “to learn more about what’s going on in the land. The military, the Army, yes, that has served you well, but that last assignment of yours, down in… where was it?” He cocked his head.
“South Fairview?” Ronan felt a slight pang, for he’d almost said, South Fair….
“Yes, yes. You may have hated it, but you learned quite a lot. And look who you turned out to be guarding, hey, my boy?” And Father chuckled.
Ronan scoffed. Who would have guessed that a Royal Princess was growing up in an ale house? Well, she was certainly well-guarded – between Tank and Luvian, no one would ever have harmed her, whether they had guessed her identity or not.
“But I need you to use those skills still. While you’re here – you’ll still be Lieutenant for the Romeny Royal Guard as a Diplomatic Military Ambassador. But now you will be serving a new assignment, one for me.”
Ronan grew somber. An assignment for his father meant a personal assignment for the King and Country of Ghiverny. And while on Romeny land, as a Royal Guard.
“Oh, Ronan, nothing so dramatic as that. But one day, Ronan, you shall be a King –”
Ronan’s eyes rounded with horror. “Not any time soon!” he interrupted forcefully. He hated when his father used that sentence.
Father scoffed. “Don’t worry, my son, don’t worry. There is far too much wine left in the land to be drunk before you become King, never fear.” He smiled and gripped Ronan’s shoulder.
“However – you do need to know – as all Kings must – you need to listen, and watch, and think. Your grandfather and his father before him called it trusting their gut. I call it that myself, but others call it instinct. Either works as well. If you think you know something, act on it.
“And right now, my gut,” here Father patted his belly, “is telling me that something is awry. I don’t know what. And I don’t like not knowing. But whenever my gut told me something was awry, it was always right. And I think it will not fail me now.
“I have my spies and I have my soldiers – some of them are one and the same. And I move them about, as I taught you to, before you left for Romeny. But now you are here in the Palace. Your Uncle is family, of course. Somewhat tangled, but he is dear to me. His daughter is now arisen, from a past he sought to hide her from, and now I look back, I think he might have been right to do so.
“People, Ronan, people of all sorts will emerge from all sorts of corners. Not just because of her, either, though her sudden arrival will have changed a great many plans, that I can guarantee you.”
“Plans?” Serious concern had just settled on Ronan’s shoulders with the enormity of this assignment, and it hadn’t even been fully explained yet.
“Yes, Ronan, plans. A good number of threads have just been yanked from embroidery clear across the Land, I’d say – and a lot of snarls have been left in their places.
“Which means that a lot of moves are being planned and negotiated even as we speak, my son. I am going to have a few of my men report to you as well, since you are in a unique position to respond. And, of course, you are here, rather than in Ghiverny, which makes you far more accessible to them.
“What I want you to do is listen for troop movement of any sort, from any direction, any at all. New men at Court – ladies, too, I suppose, after all, we do have a new Queen next door.”
Ronan nodded. “Did you hear the new song about her?”
Father chuckled. “Which one?” Then he grew serious again. “It’s exactly significant movements like hers, for example, that I want you to listen and watch for.
“Also, I want reports regularly. I brought new birds here, so use them instead of the other Ghiverny birds, just to be absolutely certain my people receive them and no one else. They’re in the back, and the first one has a white ring about its neck. The second has two large black spots on her wings. I also brought a third, though it’s not remarkable in sight. However – it flies to LongStaff. Use that if you must.”
Ronan stared at Father. “LongStaff? We never go there.”
Father said, “And thus I said, ‘if you must.’”
Ronan leaned against the table next to his father and nodded. He was trying to take in the implications of what Father was hinting at.
“So… troop movements, of any kind. Odd individuals in the Court. Watch over Mirelle. And anything out of the ordinary. Just – go with my gut.” Ronan was tempted to make a light joke here, but his father was more serious than he could recall seeing him. Ronan knew exactly what Father meant in regards to a gut feeling, for it had served him well on the streets of South Fairview. But he found the idea of using it in Romeny for Ghiverny and the Eastern Shield, in fact, enormously… intimidating.
Father took Ronan’s pensiveness for uncertainty.
“Just remember, Ronan. If you think you know something, act on it. Unless, of course, it’s a woman. If it’s a woman – don’t act, my son. Just drink.” Ronan saw his father’s eyes cloud over with pain at the loss of Mother. Ronan stepped forward and grabbed two goblets and filled them with wine. He handed one to Father.
“To Mother,” he raised his goblet.
His father looked old to Ronan then. Father nodded slowly, his eyes sad. Then he sighed and raised his goblet to Ronan’s. “To your mother.”
And they both drank.