The duty roving section of the security detachment that guarded the Royal Family in residence at Landislav’s Palace had a problem and it was getting worse.
First, they’d received a call from Princess Isadora’s rooms reporting that Princess Dagmar was being attacked in the gardens below them. When the roving section had arrived, Princess Isadora’s two leather clad playmates du jour had captured the attackers and Princess Dagmar was being comforted by her scantily clad niece. The collection of drug paraphernalia had suggested an uncomfortable recurrence of old problems but when the senior protection agent had started making getting-Dagmar-help-again moves Princess Isadora had said sharply, “None of that is hers. They,” she indicated the four prisoners, “were trying to inject her by force.”
Princess Dagmar, wrapped in a blanket that must have come from Princess Isadora’s rooms, had burst into tears in her niece’s arms.
Then the agent searching the Princess’ assailants had quietly informed his section leader, in a slightly shaken tone, that all four men had Palace security passes. Passes that said they were part of Princess Citrine’s office.
Things had escalated from there.
They were all inside out of the cold now, in the Blue Receiving Room that opened onto the gardens below Princess Isadora’s quarters. More people were present than just the group that had been outside. Queen Galina and her husband consort, Prince Stephan, were there as were their other two daughters and Princess Dagmar’s sisters, Crown Princess Aurora and Princess Ulva. Princess Ulva and her husband seemed slightly surprised that their second daughter was keeping company with two handlebar moustached, leather almost-clad men at once. To a man the security detail were glad that those two men were now wearing blankets in a toga-like fashion that hid from the older members of the Royal Family how little that leather concealed.
The Crown Princess’ eldest daughter had accompanied her parents. There was, perhaps, an unspoken feeling that one day her aunt would be Princess Katarina’s problem.
Princess Dagmar’s three ladies-in-waiting and watchdogs were clustered together out of line of sight of the royals. They were supposed to keep the Princess out of trouble, particularly drug trouble, and it appeared that they had failed.
“Dagmar, how could you?” Queen Galina, her face settling into a quiet despair, began, “Aft-“
“Grandmother, it wasn’t her.” Princess Isadora’s interruption was clear and firm. She indicated the four men in restraints kneeling on the floor. “They jumped her in the garden. Three of them were trying to hold her still while the fourth was hovering around the edges with that stuff. If it’s fingerprinted, you’ll find Aunty Dagmar never touched it.”
“Dagmar,” the Queen returned to her youngest daughter, “why were you in the garden at that time, in this weather and at this time of year?”
“My walk in the garden is the only privacy I get all day,” Princess Dagmar spoke matter of factly, “and it gives my attendants the opportunity to check my possessions for contraband.”
The Queen frowned in the direction of the ladies-in-waiting. “But this time contraband in your hands was not the problem.”
“It never has been, Mother,” Dagmar might have suppressed a sigh, “but I gave up hoping to be believed years ago. I’m not stupid. I worked out what provokes these attacks and I haven’t been asking about my daughter, I promise. So what did I do wrong this time?”
There was a background chorusing of “Daughter?” from the two youngest Princesses, “Delusional, again,” from the ladies-in-waiting, “Dags!” from a sympathetic sounding Princess Ulva, and “You think this is about your baby?” from Crown Princess Aurora. Her mother’s protest cut across the top of all of that, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Princess Citrine swept into the room commanding her flurry of daughters and closing the door behind them with a bang. “Of course you don’t know what she’s talking about,” she snapped at her elder sister. “You’ve been too busy being Good Queen Galina to realise when the hard decisions needed to be taken. That child needed to disappear and be forgotten and I’m the one who’s had to do the work to make it happen.”
Queen Galina looked at her in surprise and said slowly, “We never discussed making the baby disappear forever. It was simply inadvisable for her to be around when we were in negotiation with the Terrencians. You were supposed to place her in a suitable foster home, where she would be raised by a family who loved her. I hoped we would be able to bring her back some day. When the second Terrencian marriage proposal fell through I though maybe then, but Dagmar started having her drug problems-.” She broke off, horror dawning on her face.
“Given their Imperial Family’s fertility problems in the last couple of generations,” put in Princess Katarina helpfully, “parading a healthy example of Aunty Dagmar’s reproductive capacity in front of them might have secured a Terrencian match.”
“That wasn’t the point of the exercise,” Citrine snapped at her great-niece. “The point was to make sure that no member of that family got anywhere near the throne.”
Silence sat in the room, thick with shock.
Isadora was the one who broke it. “I liked it better when I thought you just couldn’t bear to be wrong.”
Her grandfather followed her up in a flat, direct voice, “Citrine, what have you done with my granddaughter?”
“What had to be done.” Citrine rounded on him, her daughters looking as appalled as everyone else in the room. “I’m not a monster. She was put somewhere she’d be cared for and would have opportunities if she earned them. If she’d stayed here we’d be hanging on to the throne by our fingertips, if we were lucky. Those uncles of hers would’ve been running things from her shadows before we’d blinked.” She practically spat the last few words out.
“You are overwrought.” Galina sounded supernaturally calm. “Be still. You have lied to me and acted against the best interests of heirs of my body. Because you are my sister and because of your years of service as First Councillor, I am pleased to accept your resignation for health reasons. We will tell everyone that you have had a mild stroke brought on by age and the stress of your duties and that you are retiring to your house near Kobolgrad to enjoy a recuperation and life in the country.”
“I’m perfectly well,” protested Citrine, “I don’t want-.”
I don’t care what you want,” Galina cut her off. “I don’t believe we can afford to have you go to trial for the assaults on Princess Dagmar. I don’t believe your daughters or grandchildren deserve that. If you feel that the story lacks substance, I can arrange a brain injury for you in the same spirit you arranged drug addiction for my daughter.”
“I’ll clear out my office then,” said Citrine, trying to salvage... something.
“No,” contradicted the Queen, “you won’t. You will be taken from this room to the Neurological Ward at the University Hospital, and you will stay there until you are released to travel to Kobolgrad. Does anyone have anything else to add?”
“May it please Your Majesty,” the youngest of Citrine’s daughters, Princess Alexandrina stepped forward and made a brief curtsey, “I believe I speak as well for my sisters when I say that we would like anything found in the First Councillor’s office pertaining to our father’s death to be carefully examined.”
“Alexandrina! How dare you!” Her mother went livid and took a few steps towards her before a security agent restrained her.
“I would personally appreciate it,” Alexandrina went on, looking straight at her mother, “if anything pertaining to my husband’s death was fully investigated.”
“Are you still pining over that, that common adventurer?” Citrine was furious. “You should be grateful for what you have in case you lose it!”
“I married a good man, Mother,” Alexandrina replied calmly. “Jaime and I should have been able to grow old together. Our children should have been able to grow up under their father’s care and I think you’ll find that you won’t be able to give orders to your pet thugs from Kobolgrad. She hasn’t said it but I believe Her Majesty is implying house arrest.”
“I liked Jaime,” commented Galina. “I would stop throwing around threats, dear sister. I’m taking my sticks and goads back and I’m beginning to think that I should never have trusted you with them in the first place.” She turned to Princess Isadora’s two evening companions and looked them up and down with an increasingly quizzical eye, then said slowly, “I’m not exactly sure what my granddaughter was planning for this evening but I am grateful that she was doing it with people so capable of responding to an immediate crisis.”
She paused and one of the two men, possibly the older or the dominant one or both, bowed slightly and said, “We are honoured to have been of service, Your Majesty.”
Queen Galina nodded in acknowledgement and went on, “I have been wondering, how did you get down from the garden quickly enough to intervene?”
“They jumped from the balcony, Your Majesty.” That was from one of the prisoners. Fully half the room looked at the blanket-draped men.
“It seemed urgent,” explained the second of them, quietly and a touch apologetically.
Price Aurora, sufficiently low ranked by birth to be known by his wife’s name and honours, spoke next. “I’m sure you both understand that we want to keep all of this as quiet as possible. You’ll both start work in my office first thing in the morning. We’ll sort out your current employment for you.” He gave a hard, tight smile. “At least you don’t have to be told why we’ll be going through the former First Councillor’s office.”
“If I may, sir,” it was the second man in a blanket toga again, “my about to be ex-employer had a problem with a senior staff member who was let go. You might want to get to Her Highness’ office before any contingency orders or programs have a chance to activate.”
“An excellent suggestion,” agreed Prince Aurora. The older blanket toga wearer smiled approving.
Princess Citrine reacted as she would have if a performing animal had spoken. She looked gobsmacked.