Blaise strained his eyes to follow Arric’s departing back and when he could no longer see even the faintest suspicion of him against the night sky he sighed and closed the window. He sat on the bed reliving their first kiss and wishing he could simply have left with Arric tonight. He’d missed him during the long winter and to see him again for such a short time was torture. Arric had looked so handsome and Blaise felt hot and cold and tingly just thinking about holding him and the feel of his lips. He took the velvet pouch out of his pocket and opened it. He shook the locket out into his palm. It wasn’t very big, about the size of an almond, and the chain was fine but even so he was worried about his valet noticing it if he wore it as Arric suggested.
He looked round the room for a hiding place that the servants wouldn’t find. That was difficult because they cleaned thoroughly and he had no doubt that every single one of them would inform on him without a moment’s hesitation. Eventually his eyes lighted on the canopy above the bed. He scrambled up and found that there was a place where he could slip the locket between the material and the frame. That was ideal. The maids would not see it there. He sat down again and opened the locket. The lozenge inside was clear and felt like glass. He thought about what his substitute would need and Arric had said keep it simple. He decided to start with the layout of the palace and the routes he normally took. He added in the state rooms and the ballroom and then spat the lozenge out. He’d expected it to be damp with saliva but it felt dry. He put it back in the locket and wedged the locket in its hiding place then went to bed.
When Blaise woke on Tuesday morning he couldn’t restrain a smile of delight. This morning’s audience and one more next week, then he’d never have to suffer them again. He’d be away and free and with Arric. He scolded himself mentally. He was never happy on Tuesday mornings. By the time his hot chocolate arrived he had schooled himself back into his normal glumness. Only when he was safely alone in his bath did he allow the smile to resurface as he thought about the feeling of kissing Arric.
He wouldn’t have been so happy had he seen his valet, Tomkins, studying the slippers he’d left by the bed. The man turned them over, looked at the soles and then with a glance at the bathroom door took them through to the dressing room. He shut the door and went over to the mirror on the dressing table. He took a small key from his pocket and inserted it in the hole in the side of the frame. Count Asgreen’s face appeared.
“Your Grace I felt I should report that Prince Blaise’s slippers have a few pieces of grass on them and the soles are slightly damp.”
“Thank you Tomkins. Put them back and leave matters to me.”
“Very good Your Grace.” The mirror went back to being a mirror. Tomkins removed the key and returned it to his pocket. He replaced the slippers where he had found them.
Queen Karmella looked up as Asgreen dropped the hand mirror back on the dressing table and returned to sit on the end of the bed.
“Was that Tomkins?”
Asgreen sighed “Yes. The brat is being annoying. He got out last night. No doubt he is plotting with that old groom in an attempt to leave.”
“Vincent! He can’t get away! That would ruin all our plans.”
“Calm yourself my dear. I shall put a stop to his trifling efforts without trouble.” He reached over and helped himself to a strawberry then leant back against the bed post. “Do you want to interrogate him this morning?”
The Queen regarded the back of her hand and sighed “Not really but it’s the look of the thing. Everyone at Court knows the prince had a private audience on Tuesday morning. I do believe I need some more cream Vincent.” She held her hand out for Asgreen’s inspection.
He cupped it in his palm. “Not a blemish. You look as young as our Letty and twice as beautiful.” He kissed her hand while Karmella simpered. “We can say he has a trifling indisposition. We’ll have the wedding hard on the heels of the betrothal ball. He isn’t twenty one for another four months.”
Karmella smiled then yawned delicately. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of a lie in.”
Asgreen crooked a finger and his robe floated over. He slipped it on “I will go and deal with the brat and put a stop to any silly ideas he may have. It won’t take long.”
Blaise was trying not to fidget while Tomkins curled, primped and powdered his hair into the approved style under the watchful eyes of his three gentlemen in waiting. Privately Blaise thought rolls of sausage curls round one’s ears and an eight inch high slab sticking up from one’s forehead looked utterly ridiculous. He jumped as the door was thrust open and Asgreen strode in.
“I have come to inform you that this morning’s audience is cancelled.” He said without preamble or courtesy.
“Good morning Count Asgreen. The Queen does not wish me to attend her this morning?”
“No. It has come to Her Majesty’s attention that you have been engaging in conduct that is unbecoming to a prince. As a mark of her displeasure she does not wish to admit you to her presence.”
Blaise stared at the Count in astonishment torn between elation at not having to sit through the audience and worry about what conduct he was supposed to have indulged in. He noticed Count Asgreen was wearing his wizard’s robe and swallowed. The robe was dark grey with a tracery of lines that jangled and jarred because they looked like spider’s webs but weren’t. The most disconcerting aspect of the robe, however, was the eyes. They made Blaise feel queasy and he dropped his gaze. Asgreen turned and walked into the bedroom. He came back a few moments later with Blaise’s slippers. He carried them in the way you might carry something unpleasant that the cat had dragged in. Blaise’s heart sank.
Asgreen dropped the slippers in front of Blaise. “It would appear that you have been behaving like some urchin. Wandering outside unattended in the middle of the night is not the way a prince behaves.”
“I couldn’t sleep so I went for a short walk to get some fresh air. I didn’t like to disturb anyone to accompany me. It seemed a little unfair given we were playing cards until quite late.” He looked at his gentlemen in waiting “That is correct is it not? I think you were all quite tired.” Blaise enjoyed their efforts not to agree with him.
In the end Lord Gorlish stuttered “It is true we were playing cards but Your Highness we are dedicated to your welfare. If you had rung for us...” He broke off and looked at Count Asgreen who nodded
“Quite. Irresponsible and childish. One would not expect a prince of the royal blood to behave in such a way. The Queen wishes you to reflect on your conduct. To that end you will remain in your rooms until the ball. There will be no rides or other excursions.”
Blaise looked suitably downcast. Inside he was relieved. All he had to do was sit it out until next Tuesday. Asgreen, however, was not finished. He beckoned Blaise who stood up and took off his powdering gown. He handed it to the valet and followed the Count into the bedroom. Asgreen gestured at the window and muttered. Blaise was horrified to see three bars form across the outside.
Asgreen looked at him and smiled thinly. “You will be able to open the window to get fresh air but there will be no more climbing out. All the windows will be barred. When the Queen wishes you to remain in your rooms it is my pleasure to ensure her wishes are carried out.” He turned and gestured to the gentlemen in waiting who filed out of the bedroom after him. No doubt Blaise thought bitterly to get further instructions on minding the prisoner. He went back into the dressing room and glared at Tomkins.
“Since there is no audience get rid of this ridiculous hairstyle.”
Tomkins smirked, bowed and said “As Your Highness wishes.”
Blaise spent the next week staring at the bars on his windows and wondering how on earth Arric was going to be able to get him out. Every single window in the wing now had bars that prevented the windows from opening more than a crack. The good thing was he had some time to himself since being a prisoner seemed to have relieved him of the presence of the three toadies. He spent time every night transferring memories to the stone and counted the days until Arric returned.