“She’s still alive,” snapped Crown Princess Flamora. “You were supposed to take care of that.”
The knight stood his ground, feet apart and his of hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. “She has done nothing to activate the orders Her Majesty,” he turned slightly and half bowed in the Queen’s direction, “gave me. She has been completely loyal and I have had no justification to kill her.”
“In this family being the second born sister should be enough.” The Crown Princess’ tone didn’t change as she spoke to him but she became deferential when she spoke to the Queen, “I do not understand why Your Majesty hesitates, the examples of your aunt and of mine, your own sister, are before us. I understand that you are fond of her, as I am of my own younger children, but I believe the royal bloodline is secure and my sister is…no longer required. This is a political matter, after all, and not a family one.”
“Perhaps an innate sense of fair play stays my hand,” suggested the Queen. “Princess Rohana has undertaken the tasks she has been assigned by us both without complaint and little flinching.”
“You’d think that hunting down dragons, ogres and sundry other calamities would have put paid to her by now,” commented the Crown Princess.
“She’s quite good with a sword and a spear,” added in the knight quietly.
“Quite,” replied the Queen, though it was unclear which of them she was replying to. “The closest she’s come to complaining about that sham of a diplomatic marriage we inflicted on her was at the wedding feast after she discovered she was being cuckolded in what was supposed to be her marriage bed. The party was a lot more fun after she took it over, I must admit.”
“It was a creative temper tantrum,” conceded the Crown Princess, “and that’s what worries me; she can get creative and people get carried along with her. When she strikes against me to gain the throne she will have enthusiastic followers.”
“Princess Rohana may take after your father’s family,” suggested the Queen. “They don’t have our problems.”
“Father’s family don’t play for these stakes,” riposted her eldest child.
“I can’t change your mind, can I?” Her Majesty was calm.
“No, ma’am, you cannot.” Her Highness was equally as calm.
“Then I suppose you will do what you think best.” The Queen spoke without a hint of regret.
“Yes, I shall.” The Crown Princess’ tone was a match of her mother’s. “If I may be excused, Your Majesty?”
“Of course. I’m sure you have things to do.” The Queen’s voice was unchanged.
“As you say.” The Crown Princess curtsied and left the room, closing the door behind her.
“Your Majesty?” There was a slight hesitation in the knight’s voice.
“Sir Geert,” the Queen beckoned him closer and, when he approached, said quietly and urgently, “go to my daughter Rohana and get her out of the palace before her sister’s people can track her down. Get her out of the city and, if necessary, out of the country. Tell Rohana that her sister has succumbed to paranoia and plans to eliminate her. If I take the renewed allegiances of the nobles at midsummer, then it will be safe for the two of you to return, if Princess Flamora does, then you should never come back. God speed and good luck, Sir Geert. I do not believe either of you have time for a change of clothes – you will need to go in what you stand in.”
“Your Majesty,” the knight bowed and left the room.
A few minutes later he found his charge, still in her practice gear, sitting in a minor garden and listening to a child reading from a small book. “Your Highness,” he barely bowed in acknowledgement but the tanned young woman he spoke to didn’t look offended.
“Sir Geert,” she smiled up at him. “Have you come to remind me I’m supposed to be somewhere in other clothes?” She eyed is velvet surcoat. “I didn’t think I’d been here so long.”
“You haven’t.” The knight prayed that the assassins went first to the princess’ apartments. At this time of day her husband and his live-in mistress might not be there, their child was certainly in front of him. “The Queen has sent me to get you out of the palace and the city. Your sister is taking pre-emptive steps to stop the plot she believes you are fomenting against her. We have reason to believe assassins are already on their way.”
Princess Rohana’s skin paled under her tan and her eyes saddened but her voice was clear when she spoke, “We’ll have to take Defina with us.” She looked at the child sitting beside them, puzzlement on her small face.
“Of course.” Sir Geert nodded. “You can hardly send her home, besides, she knows that we’re traveling together.” He turned to the child and said, “I’m afraid, Lady Defina, that you have to come on an adventure with us. Right now. Bring your book,” he cast an eye around, “and that stuffed horse thing. Let’s go.”
Defina collected her things, apprehensive and excited, then Princess Rohana picked her up and the three of them walked calmly out of the palace through a side door while the princess’ quarters were still being searched.
There were a lot of little purchases, fuelled by the contents of the knight and princess’ purses, the sale of the velvet surcoat and some of the emergency coins secreted in the princess’ travelling belt that she’d worn to the practice grounds. By the time a watch was posted on the city gates, a wagon pulled by a pair of mismatched horses and laden with a slightly down on their luck mercenary couple, their child and possessions, including an orphaned litter of warhound puppies, chickens, a milking goat and her kid, was already on the road to Fromandu.