Elisabeth Arone let herself be announced shortly before two p.m. James received her in his public study and meeting room.
You couldn’t deny Daina’s similarity to her grandmother. Both women had the exact same unusual eye colour – purple-blue and both were tall.
“Mrs. Arone”, he greeted her. “It is my pleasure to meet you again.”
Elisabeth moved slowly towards James, to curtsy. He was well aware, that it was better not to relieve her of that duty, because of her old age. As the proud head of Clan Arone, he would have offended her with this act of kindness.
He placed himself on a comfortable armchair, which was standing, together with two others, around a coffee table, on the left side of his desk and asked her to accompany him. She followed his request.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” He asked politely.
“Sir Stuart, that’s very thoughtful of you. I would like to have a glass of water.”
James beckoned Andre to him and asked him to bring a decanter filled with water and two glasses. When the latter had served the refreshments as ordered and withdrew himself into the corner of the room, James started the conversation.
“Mrs. Arone, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, today?”
“Sir Stuart, it has been brought to my attention that Lady Romanov is staying at Castle ‘Green Willow’ as your guest. Can I interpret this circumstance as some kind of recognition of her position by your highness, Sire?”
He crossed his legs slowly, taking his time to reply. His intention was to let her wait a bit, to remind her of who is in charge.
“Ms. Romanov is here, so I can get to know her and keep an eye on her, while her vial containing her blood-serum and her pedigree are being tested for verification.”
This answer seemed to suit her. A knowing smile spread across her face. “Very astute of you, Sire. It is good to keep your friends close, but even wiser to keep a watchful eye on your enemies.”
James grinned back at her diabolically. She wasn’t completely wrong with her assumption. You should never underestimate the Arone women.
“Can I ask for the reason for your interest in Ms. Romanov, Mrs. Arone?” he mentioned casually.
Now, Elisabeth Arone cleared her throat and her expression grew serious. “I am here, to acknowledge and renew the alliance between you, Sir Stuart and Clan Arone. In case Lady Romanov decided to declare her true intentions, we plan on standing behind you and back you, Sire, with the full force of our Clan.”
James smiled in satisfaction. His original assumption seemed to be proven true. Elisabeth Arone, head of the most powerful Clan of all royal houses, felt threatened in her position by Margarete.
Being well-disposed towards her, he answered: “Mrs. Arone. I was expecting nothing less. I am glad and proud to have your Clan, as my closest allies, back me. Rest assured that there will be no change for Clan Arone in the near future, whatever Lady Romanov’s plan might be.”
Except for the fact, that an engagement with Diana is probably off the table. But a thing, that hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t need to be mentioned right now – let sleeping dogs lie.
Now, Elisabeth Arone smiled satisfied. “It is a great honour and a matter of the heart for my Clan, to support you, Sire.”
“The honour is all mine.” James replied.
Then he raised himself and stood next to his armchair. An unmistakable signal for Elisabeth Arone, that the conversation was over.
She followed his lead and stood up herself. She said her goodbyes with a curtsy. “Sir Stuart, I wish you a pleasant day.”
James nodded to her. “Mrs. Arone”
Immediately, Andre moved out of the study’s corner, in which he had positioned himself to be of service at any time and accompanied Mrs. Arone out of the room.
This was the initial trick, but the second follows quick.
When Elisabeth Arone walked through the lobby, accompanied by Andre, the butler, she met an old acquaintance of hers: Alexandre Rophos. Head of Clan Rophos, the most powerful Clan of the royal ‘house of warriors’ and biggest competitor of Clan Romanov.
She smiled at him knowingly. “Mr. Rophos. What a coincidence, that we meet here.”
Alexandre smiled back at her, even though his smiling facial expression reminded her more of a wild animal, ready to attack. “Mrs. Arone! The pleasure is all mine. What brings you to castle ‘Green Willow’?”
Elisabeth answered blankly: “Business, my dear! There is always something to do. You know exactly how it is: There is no rest for the wicked.”
Alexandre nodded at her in agreement. Then he replied: “In case you can spare five minutes of your valuable time, Mrs. Arone, I could warm myself for a good cup of tea.”
He nodded at her, once again and said his goodbyes. “I wish you a pleasant day. I need to go on, now. You know, business… Mrs. Arone.”
Elisabeth nodded at him kindly. Then everyone went their separate ways.
James looked shortly at the big clock, which hung on the wall, right above the archway, which served as an entrance to his public study. It was just before 3 p.m. James next appointment was supposed to start at 3 sharp and the next visitor was just announced by Andre.
“Sire, I bring you Mr. Rophos.”
James stood with his eyes directed at the door. The small, dumpy, grey-haired Alexandre Rophos stepped out from behind the butler.
“It’s my honour, Sir Stuart.” He bowed slightly. By now, you could see his age. If you were only to look at his appearance, you could be easily deceived, because he seemed to be quite weak and insignificant due to his small height.
However, this was a fatal fallacy. The head of Clan Rophos made up for his lack of physical attributes, by ice-cold calculation and indescribable brutality. Rumours say, that he had something to do with the plot against the royal family Fleur de Lys, almost thirty years ago. However, his involvement in the plot could never be proven.
James was sure, that he wouldn’t give up his position as head of the royal ‘house of warriors’ without a fight, whereby he wasn’t afraid to use unfair means.
He would have to strengthen security measures for Maggie and her family – provided she agrees to his plan.
“Mr. Rophos, please let us take our seats.” James replied friendly. “Can I offer you something to drink?”
“Indeed”, he prompted immediately. “Whiskey, with three ice-cubes.”
James turned to Andre. “Andre, please prepare two glasses of Whiskey for us, exactly as the man wishes. Also add two ‘Davineff Special Reserve’ and an ashtray. We want to make ourselves a bit comfortable here.”
Alexandre Rophos smiled contently. “Very attentive of you, Sire!”
Both men waited in silent harmony for the arrival of their drinks and cigars.
After they had lit up their cigars and sipped on their Whiskey, James asked: “To what do I owe the special honour of your visit, Mr. Rophos?”
The old man relished his cigar, trying to make small smoke curls when exhaling.
James didn’t let himself become nervous. Instead he added, playing impressed: “A hidden talent. You are always good for a surprise.”
Andre Rophos smiled in amusement, then he went straight to the point. “Margarete Romanov. Have you already decided on how to proceed with this person?”
James devoted himself extensively to his cigar. He grinned at Alexandre mischievously between two puffs, then lent back in his armchair and exhaled slowly towards the study’s ceiling.
“Margarete Romanov”, he repeated Alexandre’s beginning of the sentence. “If I were to receive 100 $ from everyone, who mentioned that name to me within the last three and a half days, I would be crazy rich…”
He made a long break, meanwhile puffing on his cigar. “The more important question is: Is this Margarete Romanov worth it, to get so much attention?”
Alexandre nodded approvingly and grinned sympathetically.
James groaned, showing his annoyance, and straightened himself in his armchair.
“To be honest, I asked myself exactly the same question at the debutant-ball, for the first time. To get my reply I invited the Lady under an excuse, to stay here for a couple of days. While we are sitting here, lightly chatting, the Lady Romanov is within these castle’s walls, well-guarded and watched. Her blood-serum vial, as well as her pedigree are on their way here from Atonia, to be verified.”
Alexandre grinned very satisfied, swirled his Whiskey glass and took a considerable sip. “As I can see, you seem to be having concerns regarding Ms. Romanov’s credibility as well.”
For a long time, James looked Alexandre directly into his eyes. Then he raised his glass and toasted: “Our society is built on mutual trust. But blind trust is a luxury, reserved for dreamy girls with great ambitions! Cheers!”
Alexandre couldn’t gulp his Whiskey down his throat fast enough. James asked the butler to prepare him another glass.
“Rest assured, Mr. Rophos, I have the situation under control – to my utmost satisfaction!”
Now Alexandre laughed fervently and replied: “I have always been fully convinced, that business and pleasure should be mixed under any circumstances! I knew there lurked a sly fox, behind your cool and impenetrable façade.”
He patted his thigh in triumph, while holding his cigar between his teeth like a cowboy.
James grinned back at him in amusement.
“I wouldn’t go that far, Mr. Rophos.”
James looked conspicuously at his wristwatch.
“Was I able to answer your questions to your satisfaction for today? I have another meeting to attend to, which I don’t want to miss out on.”
Then he stubbed out his cigar in the ashtray, drank up his Whiskey and looked questioningly at Alexandre. The latter nodded affirmingly and started to stub out his cigar as well.
“Mr. Rophos, please do not worry. Stay here as long as you want. My butler Andre will be happy to assist you. So enjoy your cigar, have another drink. I don’t want to be a poor sport, just because I have to go to another appointment.”
Alexandre replied: “That is very generous of you, Sire.”
James stated with a friendly, distant facial expression: “That’s the least I can do to express my appreciation, Mr. Rophos.”
Then he raised from his chair, bid his goodbyes and left the room.
Alexandre Rophos observed James, going through the room. As soon as he was around the corner, he let himself sink deeper into the armchair and put his legs on the coffee table.
“Butler, bring me another glass of Whisky, with three ice cubes.”
Then, he took his time, to enjoy smoking his cigar, smiling to himself.