The Duke and the Duchess

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Chapter 8

The next morning while the duke and duchess were at breakfast Parker escorted in a messenger to see them. It was unusual for the valet to interrupt a meal, and from the look on his face and the hesitation of the messenger they knew it wasn't good news.

The messenger bowed and said, "Your Highnesses, I went this morning to find out when and where the hearing would be. I found ten men had been hanged at dawn, including the one who attacked Prince Henry. I . . . I am sorry to bring you such news."

Elizabeth could see Nick was very angry. He threw down his roll and said, "What? I specifically ordered Lord Gordon to hold a hearing and I told him I wanted to question my attacker."

The messenger was cringing and Nick immediately regretted venting his anger on the man. "Never mind, it's not your fault," the duke amended. "Gather up the rest of the messengers and wait outside. I'll have work for you soon."

As soon as the messenger had fled the room, Nick turned to Parker. Since his valet had been a spy for years before becoming his valet, he often had useful information.

"What do you know about Baron Eddington and his family?" Nick asked.

"Not a great deal, Your Highness," Parker replied. "The baron is from an old family, inherited the title while quite young from his father who was rather a hard line old-fashioned peer. His internal tax structure has always been favorable to himself and his wealthy friends, while forcing higher rates on people such as small shop owners and owner/captains of single ships. The poor receive no assistance, their sole purpose is to provide cheap labor on the docks or become sailors."

"No wonder there's unrest here," Elizabeth said quietly.

Nick asked, " What do you know of the baron's family? Are there any other children besides Lord Gordon?"

"I'm afraid not much, Your Highness," his valet replied. "There are three sons and a daughter, I believe. All but the youngest lad are married and have children, but I'm not sure how many or what gender. The unmarried son has the reputation of being a rake."

"That's good enough. Send the messengers back in," the duke ordered.

Six young men filed in and stood respectfully waiting for their orders.

"First, I need to know Baron Eddington's condition. Is he alive, is he likely to recover?" Nick said. "Second, I want to meet with his children, the other two sons and possibly the daughter, and then Lord Gordon. He should be local; I have no idea where the others are so you'll have to track them down. But I want to meet with the others privately before I see Lord Gordon. Can you arrange this?"

The head messenger bowed and said, "Certainly, Your Highness. I will inform you if we have any difficulty finding the other sons and the daughter, and bring the sons before you as soon as possible." Nick nodded and all the messengers bowed and departed.

But before Parker could follow them out, Nick called him back. "Parker, Mr. Alarsham isn't from Anglia, do you know anything about him?"

"Yes, Your Highness. As a foreigner in an important position, his background has been looked into quite extensively. He is originally from the southeastern shore of the Middle Sea. His family was poor and he went to sea quite young, but after a few years gave up being a sailor and settled in southern Franck. He learned to read and write, although we're not quite sure when or how, but he became a clerk to a merchant. On one trip to Anglia he became enamored of a young Anglian lady, left his position, and eventually married her, and now they have four or five children. He became a junior clerk in the office of the previous administrator and rose to become administrator, partly because of his foreign background."

At a questioning look from Elizabeth, Parker explained, "He wasn't related to anyone local, nor did he grow up serving any wealthy family here. He was therefore neutral, not anyone's favorite for the job, but unobjectionable to all. He also speaks six or seven languages, very useful in a port city."

"I thought the baron was in charge, how much power could the administrator have?" she asked.

Nick responded, "The baron just sets his laws and tax structure, the administrator applies them. As long as he doesn't ruffle the baron's feathers or upset the baron's friends, he has a great deal of leeway in how evenly or unevenly he deals with Seagate's residents and merchants. That leaves a lot of room for favoritism, bribery, kickbacks and the like."

The duke dismissed his valet and said to Elizabeth, "I'm going to need to make some changes here. I can't let Lord Gordon defy me and get away with it or I'll have endless problems with my vassals ignoring my orders."

"What can you do about it? Baron Eddington didn't do anything wrong, and it might be difficult to prove Lord Gordon willfully disobeyed you. You and I know he did, but he could reasonably claim he was upset about his father and didn't really hear your orders in the state he was in."

"I don't have to prove anything. I do have to demonstrate that I am in charge. That's why I need to speak to the baron's other children, to see if there are any better alternatives to Lord Gordon and try to figure out how to handle this. I want you present when I do, sometimes you see things I miss or at least interpret things differently."

"Of course, Nick. Do you want me just in the interviews with you or should I get myself invited to some tea parties and find out the gossip about the family?"

"Both, as much as possible, but circulating among the ladies is probably more valuable since I can't do that. I expect it may take a couple of days to see everyone, the baron has a lot of properties so it would be unusual not to have his grown children overseeing the larger ones. How are you going to obtain invitations?"

The duchess laughed. "Ask Parker how many we already have. Sylvie has a stack of calling cards from the ladies already, too. And she's spoken to a number of ladies' maids in the better shops so she already has an idea who is important in town and who is not."

Nick just shook his head in admiration. "How do you ladies do it?"

"Men have jousting, war and highly structured ranks. Women have society with less structured ranks. I'm a princess and a duchess so I rank high to start with, but if I didn't know how to dress or what to do, I could become 'poor Princess Elizabeth' instead of someone who is sought after. We women fight for position and dominance with clothes, hair, facial expressions, and words. I'm just grateful to Ann for sending me a maid who understands it all."

"And I'm grateful I don't have to. Let me know what you find out."

She replied, "Of course," just as Parker returned with one of the messengers. He bowed and said, "Your Highnesses, I thought you should know right away. Baron Eddington died last night. Lord Gordon has assumed his title."

"Thank you," the duke replied. "I want to know more about the men who were hanged, especially the nine I never saw. Who would be able to tell me who they were and why they were executed?"

Parker thought for a moment and said, "I would think the head of the prison where they were held before the hanging could tell you at least their names and why Lord Gordon had them executed, Your Highness."

Nick looked at the messenger and said, "Find him and bring him here with whatever information he has."

The messenger bowed and left. In less than an hour he returned with a large, portly man that anyone might have mistaken for a prosperous merchant. Elizabeth had changed clothes and gone out, but Nick was waiting in the sitting room.

The jailor bowed to the duke and said, "I am Grenwald, Your Highness, head of Seagate Prison. I understand you want information on the criminals executed this morning. We keep records, of course, so I have brought you a list of their names, occupations, and crimes." He offered a large, somewhat smudged piece of paper and Nick took it and read it.

The man who had attacked the duke was listed as Lester the bootmaker, and his crime was conspiracy, attempted assassination, and treason. Nick agreed with that, although he wondered what could cause a bootmaker to take up a sword and try to kill him. The other nine had various occupations, but their crimes were all the same--conspiracy to murder a royal personage, assassination of Baron Eddington, and treason. Their names meant nothing to him, but their occupations were all completely innocuous--tradesmen and clerks.

"How were these other nine identified?" the duke asked.

"They were long known as associates of the five who carried out the attack, Your Highness. And Lester identified the first two as co-conspirators, who then identified the rest."

"That was helpful of them," Nick said dryly. "Under torture?"

"Of course, Your Highness. We have the most up-to-date implements and several men who are quite expert," Grenwald bragged.

Nick felt sick to his stomach. The only good thing was that Elizabeth wasn't present to hear this. He said carefully, "I have heard that a person will say anything to stop the pain of torture, and that information obtained that way isn't very reliable. Was there any other evidence against these nine men?"

Grenwald waved away the duke's objection. "Lord Gordon was there, he was satisfied we had obtained the truth. And as I said, they met with the other five regularly, were seen drinking together often and were friends and companions to them. They surely would have known of the conspiracy but didn't come forward and report it, a crime in itself. Their executions were well deserved and properly ordered by Lord . . . no, forgive me, Baron Gordon, Your Highness."

Nick managed to say, "I see. You've told me what I wanted to know, that will be all."

Grenwald smiled, bowed and left.

The duke knew that the torture of prisoners wasn't that uncommon. He'd never visited the prison in Londinum, he wondered if they tortured people there and if his father had ever ordered it done. He knew it happened in war, and he could almost understand that, if your own men could be saved by getting information out of a captive. It was terrible, but maybe necessary; he wasn't sure, he'd never been present when it had been done. But what had happened last night had not been at all necessary, and there was no need to hang men so quickly, without even giving them a chance to defend themselves. Especially when their only proven "crime" was just knowing, probably working with and having a few drinks with the traitors.

It had happened in Sothalia so he was responsible for it even though he hadn't known it was happening. He had to change things so it wouldn't happen again, at least not here in Seagate. Changing the rest of his duchy might take some time, but he promised himself he would stop that sort of summary justice based on the unsubstantiated decision of some lord, even though it would take years.

He had little appetite for lunch, and Sylvie let him know that Elizabeth was lunching with Lady Something-or-other, who was very important and all the most influential women would be there, and so forth. Nick didn't pay much attention.

After he'd picked at his food and sent it away, Parker announced that Baron Eddington's youngest son Lord Dennis had been found and was waiting outside. Nick decided not to wait for Elizabeth to return to interview the young man; considering his reputation he was an unlikely candidate for responsibility anyway.

His valet showed in a tall slender man with long golden hair dressed in purple velvet with gold lace trim. Lord Dennis swept off a huge hat with a purple plume and gave a graceful, exaggerated bow.

"Your Highness, I am so pleased you have chosen to show me the favor of a private meeting," he said with a vacant smile.

Nick was a little taken aback, both at the outlandish costume and his forwardness in speaking first. "I will be interviewing your brothers and sister as well," the duke said, so Lord Dennis would understand he was not favoring him over them. "Tell me, how do you spend your time?"

Lord Dennis smiled broadly and replied, "Why, I do a nightly survey of the taverns to ensure they are serving good beer, their girls are pretty, and their music cheery, except when I go to the theater or attend a music or poetry party. When I have recovered from my exertions, I often go to the races, do bit of light sparring with swords, or go hunting. I would be privileged to be a local guide for Your Highness in any of these activities, if Your Highness so wishes."

Nick could only stare at him for a moment. Lord Dennis was several years his elder, but his life was nothing but wasted time and play. It was so different from his own experiences, he almost didn't believe it, but the man in front of him seemed sincere.

"Do you not manage any portion of your father's estate?"

The smile disappeared but the young lord's face remained vapid. "Your Highness, my eldest brother has directed the management of the estate since before I became an adult. He considers me useless, so of course I am, and now it is his estate so nothing will change. It's all so tiresome." The smile returned. "But he gives me a lovely allowance as long as I stay out of his way and don't do anything too disgraceful."

"If you were offered the opportunity to be responsible for some portion of the barony, what would you choose?"

The foolish look disappeared, and the young man in the ridiculous outfit looked suddenly thoughtful. "Fairview. It's our farm to the north. There's good hunting in the forest lands and I like the farm animals and the growing things. It's going to ruin because Gordon doesn't like farming and ignores it. But I'd probably make a hash of it since I know little of farming myself." He gave the duke a shrewd look. "What are you planning, Your Highness?"

Nick was going to end the meeting, but had another thought. He asked a question he believed Elizabeth would have asked if she were present. "You have another brother and a sister. Tell me about them."

Lord Dennis hesitated, looking around the room before replying. "Well, Your Highness, Lady Evelyn married beneath her, just a knight, Sir Irwin. A love match, you know, disappointed Father no end. They have the south wing at Colfax, the barony seat. There are two children so far, and she runs the house since Mother died. She's quite good at it, and her husband trains the house guard and does the required local peasantry training."

Nick nodded. "And your brother?"

"Ah, poor Lord Jeffrey. He's a nice fellow, Your Highness, which never got him very far with Father. He married the daughter of a baronet and they have five children now, I think. It's sad, he has to work you know. Gordon and Jeffrey never got along either and Father didn't give Jeff much of an allowance. He saved up and bought an old coastal trading ship and now he has a fishing vessel and an ocean trading ship as well. Not rich, though, not with the gaggle he supports. He has a big rambling house a few miles outside of Seagate."

"And who is the family lawyer, and where might he be found?"

"Your Highness, my allowance comes from Croupe and Sons, here in Seagate."

"Thank you, Lord Dennis, you've been very helpful. If Princess Elizabeth and I find we have time for entertainment while we're in town, I'll ask for your recommendations."

The young lord recognized his dismissal, gave another exaggerated bow with the plume of his hat brushing the floor, and left.

Elizabeth returned at midafternoon, looking cheerful. "I've had a lovely, intimate luncheon with about twenty of Seagate's leading ladies. Shall I tell you what I've learned?"

"By all means, but first let me tell you about Baron Eddington's youngest son, Lord Dennis."

When she had removed her hat and settled in a comfortable chair, Nick told her about his interview. When he finished, she asked, "Do you plan on splitting up the estate, or are you just looking for an alternative to Lord Gordon for the barony? Lord Dennis doesn't seem to be a good candidate for that."

"Either or both, I don't know yet. So what did you learn at your luncheon?"

"Since the wealthy have tax breaks and special privileges here in Seagate, the ladies were very fond of Baron Eddington; many of them dressed in partial mourning. They think Baron Gordon will carry on his father's policies, so they are all in favor of him and praise his wisdom, in hopes that he will do as his father did."

"No surprise there. Did they talk about the baron's other children?"

"With only a little encouragement. The second son, Lord Jeffrey, is respected by the shipping magnates' wives because he's building his own shipping company, but the rest look down on him as 'trade'. I suppose if he becomes rich enough he'll become acceptable. Their opinion of the third son, Lord Dennis, is that he's just a young buck and he'll settled down eventually, and then he might make a good marriage for a second or a third daughter. Lady Evelyn, the daughter, isn't well known here, her father has always required her to run his household which is off in the country somewhere. But they consider her a good hostess when he gives a party, although not terribly fashionable."

They agreed the accounts they were receiving of the Baron's children tallied fairly well and were likely reasonably accurate. It was nearly dinner time when Parker escorted in a man and a woman, the woman holding a baby in her arms. They were dressed in plain, good quality clothing, and from the resemblance to Lords Gordon and Dennis, the duke and duchess were sure that this was Lord Jeffrey and his wife. Lord Jeffrey bowed and his wife did her best to curtsy, although it was awkward with the child.

Parker announced, "Lord Jeffrey and Lady Barbara," and left the sitting room.

Nick and Elizabeth returned the courtesies and Nick said, "Our condolences on the loss of your father, Lord Jeffrey."

"Thank you, Your Highness. Please forgive us bringing Lucy. Our older children are all right to be on their own with only a servant or two, but it's too much for them with the baby."

"How old are your children?" Elizabeth asked.

Lady Barbara replied, "Fourteen, twelve, nine, and seven. The eldest is mature for his age and is fine looking after his siblings, but he's a little squeamish about diapers, Your Highness, and the servants have other duties." She glanced at her husband and said, "It would be nice to have a nanny, but with only the one baby . . ."

Lord Jeffrey shook his head and commented, "Can't afford unnecessary expenses right now, you know that Barbie."

Elizabeth invited everyone to sit. Nick turned to Lord Jeffrey and said, "I understand you are a ship owner. How many do you have?"

"Just three, Your Highness. I started with a small inexpensive coastal trader that needed repairs, and once it was in good condition I was able to do enough business to afford a good-sized fishing vessel. Recently I purchased a large ocean-going merchant ship. I've been very fortunate in not losing any of my ships so far. Thank the Lord I had them all well out of port when the Francks came through."

"What do you think of your father's tax and trade policies here in Southgate?" the duke asked.

Lord Jeffrey was quiet a long moment. "I'm going to be honest with you, Your Highness. I never agreed with them. But you've no need for concern, Gordon does and I have no influence on him."

The duchess asked, "What changes would you make, if you could?"

"Your Highnesses may not be aware of it, but Gordon owns two large chandleries and the way the tax structure is, he pays far less in taxes than the small shops. It's the same with the warehouses, and even the dock fees favor those with many ships. I'm embarrassed to say that it was recently changed to favor those with three ships or more rather than four, exactly after I got my third ship. Please believe me, it was not something I asked for or wanted. If I could, I would charge the fees and taxes based on the size of each ship, what goods it transports, and which services it uses. I would tax the shops on their area, and establish standard dock fees for each size dock and end special privileges in the warehouses. That would increase costs to the wealthy, though, and I suppose it would cause trouble."

The duke agreed, "I'm sure it would." Then he changed topics and asked sharply, "Lord Jeffrey, are you aware Lord Gordon disobeyed my direct command when he hung those ten men this morning?"

The ship owner paled and said, "No, Your Highness, I had no idea. I . . . my brother considers me a tradesman and does not consult me about anything. Please, Your Highness, if Gordon has brought down your wrath on his head, do not punish the rest of the family, none of us has anything to do with running the barony."

Elizabeth ignored the plea and said, "Tell me about Lady Evelyn and Lord Dennis."

"Your Highness, Denny is a bit wild, but only because he has no outlet for his energy. He has no inclination toward business or trade, but given some responsibility I'm sure he could do something more useful with himself. Evelyn is wonderful; she has a sweet disposition and gets along with all of the men in her family."

"I understand she doesn't get to Seagate very often," Nick remarked.

"No, Your Highness, she doesn't care much for society, although she hosted events for my father. I suppose my sister-in-law will do that now. Anything Evelyn needs from Seagate, she sends a servant or asks one of us to pick it up for her since all of her brothers are here often. Do you need her to come here?"

Elizabeth looked at Nick who shook his head. "That won't be necessary," she replied.

The duke said, "Nine of the ten men hung by your brother were not present during the attack and were executed based on information obtained by torture. What is your opinion of this, Lord Jeffrey?"

Lady Barbara looked appalled, while her husband took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Baron Gordon is a more forceful man than I, Your Highness. Assassins should be hung, but I wouldn't have acted as quickly, and torture . . . I haven't as strong a stomach, either. I suppose I am just a merchant, unsuited to command."

Nick stood up and said, "And yet you command three ships. Thank you, Lord Jeffrey. Return tomorrow midmorning with your brothers. Lady Barbara needn't come if it's inconvenient."

The lord and lady stood too, but hesitated. Lord Jeffrey said, "Your Highness, there is something I'd like to mention, if I may." At Nick's nod he continued, "My fishing boat goes to the nearby fishing villages and buys certain types of fish that are delicacies as well as making its own catch. There's a village within Sothalia to the north called Rocky Point that needs help. Their nets are being damaged and their catch taken by some large flying creatures. I would help them if I could, but I don't see what I can do. I understand you have magic, so perhaps . . .?"

"What kind of large flying creatures? Some sort of bird?" Elizabeth asked.

"I don't know, I haven't seen them myself, Your Highness. I suppose it could be a type of aggressive sea eagle or something like that."

"We'll look into it," the duke said, and with that the interview was over.

When Parker had escorted them out, he came back to find Nick putting on his cloak. "I have some business to attend to," the duke said to the duchess and went out trailed by his valet and a couple of guards snagged from the hallway.

At dinnertime, Elizabeth waited a while, but eventually just ate by herself. When her husband and his valet finally returned, Parker went to get a cold supper for the duke while Nick took off his cloak and plopped down in a chair. He was looking tired but pleased, so Elizabeth gave him an inquiring look.

"I paid a very informative visit to Croupe and Sons. It turns out I have some options, and I'm going to exercise them tomorrow."

"Want to let me in on it?"

"I think you already know. The main sticking point was the possible entailment of the barony, but that's resolved and I'm going to have a few things for Baron Gordon and his brothers to sign tomorrow."

"I assume the new baron is not going to be pleased."

"Yeah, he's not. But I'm not overly pleased with him, and I'm a prince and a duke and he's just a baron, so too bad."

The next morning a trio of soberly dressed men arrived first, bearing documents. Nick looked over the papers, and conferred with them off in a corner of the sitting room.

The three brothers arrived together, Baron Gordon entering first followed by Lords Jeffrey and Dennis. The eldest brother looked impatient and haughty, the middle brother a little worried, and the youngest rumpled and barely awake. The three bowed, straightened, and waited.

The duke and duchess were seated and didn't get up or offer seats or greetings.

Nick said, "Baron Gordon, you disobeyed me, and I cannot allow that to pass. By law, as the oldest son you inherit the title and property entailed to you. The only way I could take that away would be to have you beheaded, and while I'm not pleased with you, your offense is not quite sufficient for that."

Baron Gordon had looked alarmed during this speech, but at the end he relaxed and smiled a little smugly. "I apologize for upsetting you, Your Highness, but I'm sure our relationship will improve as we get to know each other."

"I doubt that. I did some research, and it turns out the only property which is actually entailed is the original house and three hundred acres that goes with it. The remainder of your barony consists of later additions that are not."

"What? That sure can't be right, Your Highness."

Nick gestured at the three men sitting off to the side. "It is according to your lawyers. Now, being your lord, it is within my right to redistribute whatever I want of what is not entailed. I understand there is a farm called Fairview that you have not been properly tending to, so as of now I am bestowing it on Lord Dennis, as well as an additional one hundred and seventy-four acres around it so it has access to roads without crossing any of the rest of the barony. Gentlemen?"

One of the lawyers came forward with some documents. Nick signed one, and one was given to Lord Dennis with a dazed look on his face while Lord Gordon just looked a little peeved.

The baron said, "Well, Your Highness, if my little brother wants to muck about on a farm I suppose it matters little. I would have given it to him if he'd asked and it's still in the family after all."

Nick smiled and nodded. "Oh yes, everything remains in the family. Lord Jeffrey, come here and kneel."

The ship owner came forward hesitantly and knelt in front of the duke, who stood up. "Lord Jeffrey, I hereby name you Baronet Jeffrey of Seagate. You are my man now, you are in charge of this city and its environs, and you serve me directly, not your brother." Nick whispered, "Swear allegiance."

Baron Gordon erupted. "You can't do that! The port is the main income for the barony, without it how am I to live? And my sister, remember you punish her too by this and she has done nothing to warrant it."

Nick ignored him, and the new baronet finally realized everyone was waiting for him to begin the fealty ceremony, which he did. When it was done, the duke signed more papers as did Baronet Jeffrey, including one he paused over for a moment, and then smiled as he signed it.

When he'd finished, Nick said, "Baronet Jeffrey just agreed to provide a handsome income for his sister from the Seagate revenues. Whether she continues to live with you, Baron, or not is up to her. But she will not be dependent on you."

"You can't do this. I will appeal to king!" Baron Gordon exclaimed angrily.

Nick smiled at him. "Go right ahead. I've already written to my father explaining the matter, and I'm quite sure he will see the need for what I've done. He's never been tolerant of disobedience."

The baron gave a very short, jerky bow, and stormed out, slamming the door behind him. The lawyers gathered up their papers, their faces impassive, but their eyes smiling as they bowed and left quietly.

Lord Dennis said, "Thank you, Your Grace . . . uh, I mean Your Highness. I may starve, but at least I won't die drunk in a gutter somewhere." He gave Nick and Elizabeth separate elaborate bows, and swept out of the room.

Baronet Jeffrey shifted from foot to foot and finally said, "Your Highness, I appreciate the honor you've done me, but what am I supposed to do? I don't know how to run a huge port city."

Elizabeth had stayed in the background until now, but she came forward and said, "You know the people and politics in Seagate, and you understand shipping. You will have Mr. Alarsham to assist you and you are a capable manager, otherwise you would have failed with your first vessel. You've told us some of your ideas for a new tax and fee structure, and they are good ones. Take it one step at a time, listen to the experts, but make your own decisions."

"And talk to the common people here, they have grievances that should be heard," Nick added. "If they are treated fairly, have the ability to take care of their families and the opportunity to achieve a better life, a lot of the unrest will die away. Overhaul the prison, too, starting with the head of it. Happy people don't try to assassinate their leaders."

"I . . . I will try to justify your faith in me, Your Highnesses." Baronet Jeffrey bowed and departed.

When he was gone, the duchess said, "Well that was quite something. What do you think Baron Gordon will do now?"

Nick shrugged. "Fume, plot, and hopefully complain a lot. I want word to spread that I may be young but I'm not a pushover."

"You know this could cause trouble later."

"Yeah, but I can handle one sulky baron better than hundreds of angry people in one of Anglia's major seaports. I hope the new baronet can handle the job I just gave him. Which reminds me, we haven't really had much of a chance to see Seagate, why don't we do a tour?"

Elizabeth agreed and they spent the rest of the day in and out of their carriage, seeing the sights with Captain Gregg and ten guards following them everywhere. They were both fascinated by the dock area with its wide variety of ships, cargoes, and people.

They left most of the guards with the carriage, just the captain and two men following at a discrete distance while the rest remained farther back with the coach. As they strolled along the waterfront, they tried not to stare at the unusual people there. There were crews and passengers coming and going from all over, and their coloring, dress, and languages were often strange to Elizabeth, and sometimes to Nick too. The air smelled of spices, salt, wool, various animals, rotting fish, exotic foods, beer and spirits, and things they couldn't identify.

Elizabeth couldn't help staring just a little at a man with a monkey sitting on his shoulder, and Nick's head swiveled to get a better look at the most fantastically colored large bird. The ships were different from each other too, some very normal-looking from Anglia, but the shapes and rigging of others were widely different. The noise was deafening, and they caught snatches of languages neither could even identify much less understand.

They walked down as far as the warehouses, but they decided they would be in the way if they went too close with men hauling boxes, barrels, bales, and bundles back and forth from the docks. The captain signaled the carriage up, and they rode slowly back down the docks all the way to the beach.

The fishy smell was stronger; the smaller docks at the north end catered to a fishing fleet. Nick and Elizabeth exited their vehicle again for a walk along the beach. There were some other people out gathering whatever the tide had brought in and children playing in the sand. It was much quieter and a pleasant walk. The houses above the beach were expensive ones, many with well-tended gardens displaying a few early blooms. But they didn't walk all the way down to the rocky cliffs they could see in the distance since they were both getting sand in their shoes and the hem of Elizabeth's dress was dirty as well.

The duke and duchess went back to their carriage and rode in a wide loop through the city before returning to their inn. They changed shoes and Elizabeth her dress, Sylvie just sighing at the state of the one she took off.

Over dinner, Elizabeth said, "Mr. Alarsham sent a note asking if we would attend a ball the day after tomorrow. Do you think we should? We didn't get a chance to exchange views or socialize in the theater."

Nick thought about it. "It's a good idea, but not right now. As long as we're here, our new baronet isn't really in charge and he needs to be."

"Do you think he will be able to run Seagate?"

"Sure, although I don't know how well. But we have to give him the chance to make decisions on his own without us looking over his shoulder. I think we should get out of town and come back later. If we're going back to the forest later to check out those big creatures in the trees, we could come back here too."

Elizabeth nodded. "If we continue on tomorrow, we'll be ahead of schedule, unless you want to take a side trip?"

Nick grinned. "Yep, let's go to Rocky Point and see what they've got. Even though it's just a little fishing village, they're part of Sothalia too. If there's trouble with some animals or birds or whatever it could spread."

Elizabeth grinned back. "That's what I thought you'd say."

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