A Murderous Relation – Deanna Raybourn

London, October 1888 What in the name of flaming Hades do you mean his lordship wants me to officiate at the wedding of a tortoise?” Stoker demanded. He appeared properly outraged—an excellent look for him, as it caused his blue eyes to brighten, his muscles to tauten distractingly as he folded his arms over his chest. I dragged my gaze from the set of his shoulders and attempted to explain our employer’s request again. “His lordship wishes Patricia to be married and asks if you will do the honors,” I told him. The fact that the Earl of Rosemorran had made such a request shouldn’t have given Stoker a moment’s pause; it was by far not the most outrageous of the things we had done since coming to live at Bishop’s Folly, his lordship’s Marylebone estate. We were in the process of cataloging and preparing the Rosemorran Collection—amassed thanks to a few hundred years of genteel avarice on the part of previous earls—in hopes of making it a proper museum. With our occasional forays into sleuthing out murderers and the odd blackmailer, we were a bit behind, and his lordship’s latest scheme was not calculated to improve matters. “Veronica,” Stoker said with exaggerated patience, “Patricia is a Galápagos tortoise. She does not require the benefit of clergy.” “I realize that. And even if she did, you are not clergy. The point is that Patricia has been quite agitated of late and his lordship has taken advice on the matter. Apparently, she requires a husband.” Patricia had been a gift from Charles Darwin to the present earl’s grandfather, a souvenir of his travels to the Galápagos, and she occupied herself with eating lettuces and frightening visitors as she lumbered about with a disdainful expression on her face. She was as like a boulder as it was possible for a living creature to be, and the only moments of real interest were when she managed to upend herself, a situation that required at least three grown persons to rectify.

But lately she had taken to hiding in the shrubbery, moaning mournfully, until the earl consulted a zoologist who suggested she was, as the earl related to me with significant blushes, tired of being a maiden tortoise. I explained this to Stoker, adding, “So his lordship has ordered a suitable mate and has every expectation that when Patricia is properly mated, she will be right as rain.” Stoker’s expression was pained. “But why a wedding? Tortoises are not precisely religious.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Of course they aren’t. But Lady Rose is home just now and overheard her father discussing Patricia’s new mate.” I started to elaborate but Stoker held up a quelling hand. The mention of the earl’s youngest and most precocious child was sufficient. “I understand.

But why am I supposed to perform the ceremony? Why can’t his lordship?” “Because the earl is giving away the bride.” Stoker’s mouth twitched, but he maintained a serious expression. “Very well. But whilst I am marrying two tortoises, what will you be doing?” “Me?” I smiled graciously. “Why, I am to be a bridesmaid.” • • • I would like to say that a tortoise wedding was the most eccentric of the tasks to which we applied ourselves during our time in his lordship’s employ; however, I have vowed to be truthful within these pages. Even as I persuaded Stoker to officiate at reptile nuptials, I was keenly aware that we were perched on the precipice of a new and most dangerous investigation. Our previous forays into amateur detection had been largely accidental, the result of insatiable curiosity on my part and an unwillingness to let well enough alone on Stoker’s. (He claims to involve himself in murderous endeavors solely for the benefit of my safety, but as I have saved his life on at least one occasion, his argument is as specious as Lamarck’s Theory of Inheritance.) We had just emerged from a harrowing ordeal at the hands of a murderer in Cornwall* when we were summoned back to London by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk, Lord Rosemorran’s elderly great-aunt and éminence grise behind the throne.

For the better part of the nineteenth century, she and her father had made it their mission to protect the royal family—not least from themselves. Lady Wellie meddled strategically, and no one save the royal family and a handful of very highly placed people of influence knew of her power. She dined twice a month with the Archbishop of Canterbury and regularly summoned the Foreign Secretary to tea, and the head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch held himself at her beck and call. This last, Sir Hugo Montgomerie, was my sometime ally, albeit grudgingly on his part. He knew, as did Lady Wellie, that my natural father was the Prince of Wales. I was unacknowledged by the prince, which suited me perfectly, but my very existence was dangerous. My father had undergone a form of marriage with my mother—entirely illegal, as she was an Irishwoman of the Roman Catholic faith and he was forbidden by law to wed without the permission of his august mother, Queen Victoria. “Bertie always was a romantic,” Lady Wellie once told me with a fond sigh. “There are other words for it,” had been my dry response. Lady Wellie did not appreciate levity where her favorites were concerned, and my father occupied a particularly cozy spot in her affections.

For that reason, perhaps, she was sometimes indulgent with me, turning a blind eye to my unconventional occupation as a lepidopterist. Butterfly hunting was a perfectly genteel activity for ladies, so long as one was properly chaperoned and never perspired. But I had made a comfortable living from my net, traveling the world in search of the most glorious specimens to sell to private collectors. Even if my parents’ union had been a conventional one, sanctioned by both church and state, the fact that I frequently combined business with pleasure—using my expeditions to exercise my healthy libido—would have made it impossible for the prince to recognize me officially as his child. That Lady Wellie had, in the days of her robust youth, indulged regularly in refreshing bouts of physical congress no doubt influenced her attitude of bland acceptance to my discreet activities. In fact, she had encouraged them on more than one occasion, at least as far as Stoker was concerned. In spite of his numerous attractions—and the fact that we were both more than a little in love with one another—we had hitherto resisted the more primitive blood urges. Stoker frequently swam in whatever available pond or river provided a chilly respite, and I submerged my yearnings in rigorous scientific study and the odd evening spent sampling the collection of robust phallic artifacts I had been sent by a grateful gentleman who had escaped the noose thanks to our efforts on his behalf.* But in the course of our most recent adventure, Stoker and I had cast off our reticence at last, acknowledging that the curious mental and emotional bond we shared seemed to comprise a physical element as well. At least that was how I liked to phrase it.

The truth, dear reader, is that I was as ready for him as any filly ready for the stud. My blood thrummed whenever he came near, the air crackling between us like one of Galvani’s electrical experiments. It was a mercy that we had not been alone in our train compartment on the journey back to London; otherwise, I suspect the urgent swaying of the conveyance would have proven too much for my increasingly limited self-control. Stoker, as it happens, was possessed of more decorum. Lady Wellie would have pronounced him a romantic as well, for he insisted that our inaugural congress must be properly celebrated—to wit, in a bed. A comfortable bed, he added firmly, with a wide mattress and a sturdy frame and a headboard that would bear some abuse. I blinked at this last, but agreed, realizing that time and privacy would be required to fully sate us both. The result was that we arrived back in London in a fever of anticipation, bickering happily about which of our lodgings should provide the better setting for our genteel debaucheries. Lord Rosemorran housed us in two of the follies on his estate, Stoker in a Chinese pagoda, and me in a miniature Gothic chapel. “Mine has a wider bed,” I pointed out.

“Mine is nearer the Roman temple baths,” he reminded me. I fell into a reverie, distracted at the notion of a very wet, very imperfectly clothed Stoker and the hot, heavy air of the baths with their vast pools of heated water and comfortable sofas. “Excellent point,” I managed. But we returned to find that the plumbing in the Roman baths had exploded modestly, damaging the temple and Stoker’s adjacent pagoda. “No worries,” Lord Rosemorran told him, unaware of our predicament and therefore jovially oblivious to our dismay. “I have had Lumley move your things into the house. You can sleep upstairs. There is a very nice guest room next door to the night nursery.” I spent the better part of that day trying to decide whether Stoker should break out of the house that night or whether I should break in, but in the end, the matter was decided for me. Preparations for the upcoming tortoise nuptials had set the household at sixes and sevens, and amidst the chaos, Lady Wellie sent for us.

We had been summoned back to London at her insistence. The audacious killer known as Jack the Ripper had begun a murderous rampage, slaughtering his victims so brutally that it had caught the nation’s attention—and Lady Wellie’s. We knew the villain had struck again, two victims in the same night, and it was this heinous double crime that caused her to dispatch a telegram insisting upon our return and ending our Cornish adventure. After the bracing air of Cornwall, London was a contrast of sooty fogs and afternoon lamps lit against the early October gloom. Lady Wellie awaited us in her private rooms, her dark gaze alert. A clock on the mantel ticked softly, and in the corner stood a large gilded cage in which two lovebirds chattered companionably. Lady Wellie flicked a significant glance towards the clock. “It is about time,” she said by way of greeting. Stoker bent to brush a kiss to her withered cheek. She did not simper as she usually did, but her expression softened a little.

“I do apologize,” I told her. “His lordship waylaid us on the way in with news of alterations in our lodgings, and then we were sorting the details for a tortoise wedding. Patricia is to be a bride.” Lady Wellie’s clawlike hand curved over the top of her walking stick. “I know. I was asked to provide her with a bit of Honiton lace for a veil,” she replied. “But I have not summoned you here to discuss the latest family foray into madness. I need your help.” Lady Wellie was plainspoken by habit but seldom quite so forthright. Stoker shot me a glance.

“The East End murderer,” he supplied. “We read the latest newspapers on the train this morning. He has a penchant for prostitutes, this fellow.” “Not prostitutes,” she corrected swiftly. “The newspapers know what sells, but the most one can say definitively of these unfortunates is they are women who possibly turn to the trade in moments of necessity. None of them has been a true professional.” “Does it make a difference?” I put in. “I imagine it does to them,” she replied. Her hand flexed on the walking stick, and I noticed she did not offer us refreshment. Lady Wellie kept one eye on the ormolu clock upon the mantel as she spoke.

For the first time, I was aware of a taut stillness in the room, something expectant, stretched on tiptoe. Even the lovebirds fell silent. She went on. “It is still early days in the investigation, but it seems each of them had a regular occupation—flower seller, hop picker. If they sold themselves, it was only to make the price of a bed at night or a pint of gin. When they had need of ready cash and nothing left to pawn, they exploited the only asset in their possession.” “Poor devils,” Stoker said softly. We lived in luxury thanks to his lordship’s largesse, but we had seen such women often enough in our travels about the city. Haggard and worn by worry and poor nutrition, they were old before their time, their flesh their only commodity. Whether they used their bodies to labor in a field or up against the rough brick of an alley wall, every ha’penny they collected was purchased at a dreadful cost.

Lady Wellie cleared her throat. “Yes, well. As you can imagine, the newspapers cannot contain themselves. They are utterly hysterical on the subject, whipping up the capital into a fever of terror and speculation. I do not like the mood at present. Anything is possible.” She narrowed her eyes, and I filled in the rest. “You mean republicanism is on the rise again.” “There is agitation in every quarter. These journalists”—her voice dripped scorn upon the word—“are taking this opportunity to stoke resentment against immigrants, against the Jews, and against the wealthy.

” “Not groups that ordinarily fall in for resentment from the same quarter,” Stoker observed. “They do now. The middle class is perfectly poised to hate in both directions. They think the lower orders criminal and they fear them even as they look down upon them. And they resent the rich for not taking better care of the situation, policing the poor and the indigent.” I thought back to the tent city that had occupied Trafalgar Square for the better part of the year, row upon row of temporary structures sheltering those who had no other place to go. For months, the indigent had slept rough, washing themselves as best they could in the fountains, passing under the gaze of the Barbary lions. There were not enough soup kitchens and shelters and doss-houses to keep everyone fed and warm, and it was all too easy to step over some slumbering wretch upon the pavement and dismiss it as someone else’s trouble to solve. “The mood, at present, is dangerous,” she went on. “The goodwill from last year’s Jubilee seems to have evaporated.

” Queen Victoria, desolate in her widowhood, had withdrawn from public life, immuring herself in stony silence at Windsor Castle. But it had been two and a half decades since Prince Albert’s death, and the queen’s unwillingness to show herself to her people had bred annoyance, which had turned to outright debate about whether a monarchy was even relevant in modern times. The previous year’s Jubilee had seen the queen out and about, a rotund little figure swathed in black silk and larded with diamonds, nodding and waving to the cheers that resounded as her extended royal clan trotted obediently in her wake in a glorious and glittering panoply. But a year was a long time in public memory, and over the winter—the hardest in decades—privation and want had grown so terrible that all of the warm feeling of patriotism and bonhomie towards the royal family had melted like ice on a summer’s day. Lady Wellie clasped her walking stick more tightly. “It is the very worst time for any sort of scandal to break.” She paused, and I saw her gaze sharpen as she looked from me to Stoker and back again. Suddenly I understood that feeling of taut expectation. “Which one of them?” I asked. “You will see soon enough,” she replied grimly.

Just then, the clock struck the hour and there came a low scratching noise behind the paneling next to the fireplace. Lady Wellie looked to Stoker. “Open it. You will find the mechanism behind the china shepherdess on the mantel,” she instructed. Stoker did as he was bade, pressing a hidden button on the mantel. The paneling next to the fireplace swung open on silent hinges, and for a moment all I could see was Stoker snapping to attention and making a low bow as Lady Wellie struggled slowly to her feet, then sank into a deep curtsy. A tall, slender figure swathed in heavy black veils entered. I found myself standing with no conscious intention of rising. She had that effect upon people. “Your Royal Highness,” said Lady Wellie.

“Miss Veronica Speedwell and Mr. Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, the younger brother of Viscount Templeton-Vane. Veronica, Stoker, Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales.” CHAPTER 2 The princess threw back her veils. Even without Lady Wellie’s introduction, I knew that face. It had stared out at me from countless shop windows, graced innumerable newspapers and fashion magazines. Our future queen, Alexandra of Denmark, wife to the Prince of Wales, and my stepmother. Another figure stood behind her in the shadows and I gave a cry of astonishment. “Inspector Archibond!” The inspector was not a particular friend of mine. Stoker and I had made his acquaintance briefly during a previous investigation, * and none of us had been terribly impressed.

He thought us meddlesome and willful and we thought him distinctly humorless and brittle. He still looked well-groomed and nondescript; nothing about him would make an impression of any duration, but it suddenly occurred to me what a useful quality that might prove in a policeman. He gave a nod, acknowledging my greeting, but said nothing, looking instead to the princess. It had been a breach of etiquette for any of us to speak or acknowledge one another before she did, but there was no trace of irritation in her manner. She took a seat and signed for the rest of us to resume ours. The gesture—like everything she did—was graceful. Her expression was composed, but faint purple smudges shadowed her eyes. She sat slightly forwards in her chair, and I remembered that she was a little deaf. She gave me a gentle smile. “Miss Speedwell, I regret we are meeting under such unusual circumstances.

” I flicked a glance to Lady Wellie before looking again to my stepmother. The princess was modestly dressed in a sober, simple skirt and jacket of navy blue with only the collar and cuffs of a crisp white shirtwaist peeking from the edges. It was, at first glance, the sort of austerity one might expect of any well-bred lady of some forty-odd years. But the skirt was beautifully draped by the hand of a master dressmaker, the hems delicately pinked to resemble petals. Her jewels were discreet, only a heavy locket and her wedding ring, with an enameled watch pinned to her lapel and the gleam of pearls beneath her cuffs. Her hat was a little broader than fashionable, with its thick black veil to conceal her still-beautiful face. It was a face I might have been happy to see at another time and in another place. “Not at all, Your Royal Highness,” I said tightly. “This is not the first time I have been summoned by a princess who wished to preserve her incognita,” I told her, harking back to a fateful meeting with my father’s younger sister that had ended in bloodshed.* The princess did not flinch.

“Louise,” she murmured. “Yes, she and Lady Wellie have been eloquent on the subject of your abilities.” I bowed my head but said nothing. After a moment, the princess went on. “It is on Lady Wellie’s advice that I asked to see you, Miss Speedwell,” she told me. “And you, Mr. Templeton-Vane,” she added with a glance to Stoker. “I know what you have been able to accomplish in the past, and it is my hope that you will be able to help me now.” “Help you? With what, ma’am?” Stoker asked kindly. She paused and looked to Lady Wellie, who gave her a firm nod, as if to stiffen her resolve.

Inspector Archibond had taken a chair a little distance apart, tucked discreetly in the shadows. Presumably, he had attended in order to preserve the princess’s safety during her incognita in the streets of London. But I knew he was attentive, listening to every word we exchanged. The princess drew a deep breath. “It is my son, my eldest, Prince Albert Victor. We call him Eddy in the family.” She reached up and unclasped the golden locket, passing it to me as she touched a narrow button on the side. It sprang open to reveal a photograph. I knew that face as well. Images of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales sold newspapers.

He was our future king, after all. He had our father’s heavy-lidded Hanoverian eyes, but his face, long and slender, belonged to his mother. His dark hair waved over his brow, and a pair of elegant moustaches turned up at the ends over a full, sensuous mouth. He might have been handsome but for his chin. It receded slightly, giving him a mildly feckless look, the sort of face that belonged to a man one might not be able to depend upon in times of trouble. But the eyes were kind and the mouth sweet. I handed the locket back and the princess held it, looking down fondly. Still I did not speak. “What is the difficulty, ma’am?” Stoker asked. “Eddy, like most young men, has sown a few wild oats,” she said, her expression a little embarrassed.

“I am the product of a wild oat myself, ma’am,” I told her. “I think we all know what you mean.” “Veronica,” Lady Wellie murmured. I did not know if Archibond had been made aware of my paternity, but Lady Wellie and the princess would understand my inference. The princess flushed, a sweep of warm rose heightening the color in her cheeks. A lesser woman might have flounced away at such a provocation. But Alexandra of Denmark was a future queen and empress, and I saw then that she was made of sterner stuff. Her posture stiffened and she regarded me down the length of her nose. “Miss Speedwell, it does not escape me that the circumstances of our meeting are extraordinary. I hope we may at least be civil to one another, and let it begin with me.

I offer you my heartfelt apologies.” I blinked at her. “For what, ma’am?” “For the cavalier manner in which you have been treated. You have demonstrated loyalty and honor in your dealings with the family, and for that you should be commended. I regret that you have not been dealt with more kindly.” I thought of the promises, made and broken and made again. I had never asked for, never wanted anything more than a moment of my father’s time. I did not crave recognition or money or anything other than the bare acknowledgment from this man that he had taken part in my creation, that he had loved my mother and that I had been born of that love. Instead, I had endangered myself, risking my own life and Stoker’s on more than one occasion on their behalf. And for no greater reward than a series of hidden meetings conducted in shadows and secrecy.

When my own uncle had plotted to overthrow the monarchy on my behalf in a plot of breathtaking melodrama, I had chosen the family that would not own me, without hesitation and without regret. My uncle had offered me a throne, and I had refused it—as much for the sake of my blood family as for the sake of my own inclinations. But still there was no direct word from my father. A hot streak of anger simmered always, just below the surface, but I did not give vent to it. “What do you want of us, ma’am?” I asked. Realizing that an emotional appeal would not serve, she clasped the locket safely back around her neck, snapping the golden door closed upon my half-brother’s face. “Eddy is in trouble, I think. With a woman.” She broke off and gave an anguished look to Wellie, who supplied the details. “Her Royal Highness has had a discreet communication from her jeweler.

It seems that the prince may have commissioned a jewel for a lady.” “A jewel?” I inquired. “What sort of jewel?” “A diamond star. You are too young to remember, but there was a fashion for them in the sixties. All the rage, they were. Empress Eugénie had a particularly lovely collection.” “Winterhalter liked to paint them,” the princess put in, a small nostalgic smile touching her lips. “Empress Elisabeth of Austria used to fancy them as well.” “Indeed. I had rather a fine set myself,” Lady Wellie said.

“And Her Royal Highness has the most extensive collection in Europe, most notably a set by Garrard. It is they who have contacted her about the prince’s purchase.” I recognized the name of one of the most esteemed and fashionable jewelers in London. From time to time a member of some royal family or other would be married, and it was traditional to shower the bride with jewels. Sketches of her parures would be published in the newspapers and invariably the name “Garrard” made an appearance, usually attached to the most lavish and extravagant illustrations. The princess picked up the thread of the narrative. “Because they were fashionable for so long and because so many women have them, it is difficult to tell them apart at first glance. Mine are all marked with an engraving on the back of the Prince of Wales feathers.” She reached into her reticule and withdrew a small velvet pouch. When she opened her palm, it was as if she had offered a handful of light, the faceted diamonds catching the glow of the gaslights and flinging them back again.

Wordlessly, she turned it over, showing the back, where the feathers were sharply incised. The badge of the three white ostrich plumes was recognizable anywhere. Princes of Wales had been engraving, embroidering, painting, gilding, and jewelling the image on anything that belonged to them for the better part of five centuries. I was only surprised none of them had managed to tattoo it upon his person yet. “From what I am told, the prince commissioned a star patterned upon this one, save for the badge on the reverse. It was embellished only with his initials. AVCE. Albert Victor Christian Edward.” She turned it over again, dazzling us with the dancing light before putting it away, almost reverently. She took a deep breath.

“The jewel can be traced to him. It is imperative that it be retrieved before that happens.” “Why?” I asked, canting my head. Her expression softened. “My son is in love, deeply, and the match is a good one.” “His cousin,” Lady Wellie supplied. “Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine.” I had never heard of her, but that was not surprising. The queen had dozens of grandchildren scattered across the courts of Europe like so much thistledown. I flicked Lady Wellie a glance and she explained.

“The queen’s second daughter, Princess Alice, married the Grand Duke of Hesse. Poor Alice has been dead a decade now from the diphtheria,” she said, the corners of her mouth pulling down. She had been overseeing the royal family with unswerving devotion and all the fury of an avenging angel for the better part of seven decades. I wondered how many losses she had counted in her time. “Princess Alix is Alice’s youngest daughter. She is sixteen,” the Princess of Wales put in. “She is shy and too young for marriage at present. But my son cherishes the hope that in time she will come to love him as he does her.” “And you believe his gift of this jewel to another woman would prove an impediment?” Stoker suggested. The princess’s smile was thin.

“No woman likes to know she is not the first in her husband’s affections.” She did not look at me when she spoke, but I felt the thrust of her remark just the same. My father had loved my mother enough to risk an empire for her. The fact that he had given way to his destiny was a testament to the weakness of his character, not the strength of his love. “Besides,” she went on, “Alix is a devout Lutheran. She has been strictly brought up in a small and conservative court. If she were to discover that my son has conducted himself with anything less than perfect propriety and discretion, she might never entertain him as a suitor.” “Perhaps she shouldn’t,” I pointed out. “If she does not know the truth, she cannot know his character. She might accept him based upon an imperfect understanding of him, and that never bodes well for a marriage.

” The princess’s expression was pained. “My son is not a bad man, Miss Speedwell. He is twenty-four years old. His character is yet incompletely formed.” I resisted the urge to look at Stoker. His character had been graven in stone by the time he had run away from home at the age of twelve. He had ever been as he was, solid as the earth and master of his own fate. The fact that the princess still clearly viewed her son as a child would be the least of Alix of Hesse’s worries if she chose to marry him, I reflected. “What did His Royal Highness say when you questioned him?” I asked. Her expression was aghast.

“I would never discuss this with Eddy.” “Then, forgive me, ma’am,” Stoker said gently, “how do you know what he did with it?” Inspector Archibond roused himself from the shadows. “Her Royal Highness asked me to make a few discreet inquiries, but I have reached the limits of my abilities in this matter.” He gave a half shake of the head, as if to warn by the gesture and his clipped tone that he would not provide further details in the presence of the princess. “The prince is in Scotland at present,” she told us. “This is the perfect opportunity to retrieve the jewel before matters get out of hand.” I blinked at her. “You want us to steal the star?” To her credit, she did not flinch. “That is not a word I would have used, Miss Speedwell, but I will not quibble over syntax. I want the jewel retrieved so that a small mistake made by my son in a moment of youthful impetuosity will not ruin his chances for future happiness.

” Blood rushed to my head, pounding in my ears like a war drum. “Yes, it would be a pity if a prince had to accept the consequences of his actions,” I said softly. There was a sharp intake of breath from Lady Wellie, and the two men watched us warily. The princess gave me a level look. “I did not come to spar with you. I hoped you would be sympathetic to my cause. Eddy is not like other boys,” she said, her maternal affection softening her tone. “He is gentle and easily led. He is not, by nature, suited to the difficult decisions that kingship will bring to him. He is far more my child than his father’s,” she added with a rueful smile.

“No, Miss Speedwell, I am not blind to my son’s faults, for all that I am an indulgent mother. I know Eddy’s flaws, and if he were a private gentleman, they would touch no one but him. But it is his destiny to become king. And his choice of wife will be the most important decision of his life. She must be stronger than he is, more resilient. She must prop him up when he requires it, give him loan of her strength when he has not enough of his own. She must draw forth his courage and his principles. He has sweetness and devotion, and with the proper wife to inspire him, he will do great things. But not without her.” “And you think Alix of Hesse can do all of that?” Stoker put in.

“You said she is only sixteen.” “But her character is formed,” the princess insisted. “When she is ready to marry, she will bring strength of purpose and focus to her husband. I want that husband to be Eddy.” “What of the recipient of the star?” I asked. “Won’t she complain to the prince when it is taken from her?” “Eddy will understand that I have retrieved it and there will be no need for discussion on the matter. I do not like scenes. All will be as it was.” I did not glance at Stoker, but I knew his thoughts. He would be as skeptical as I under the circumstances, but he was a gentleman to his marrow.

He would not voice the doubt we shared as to the princess’s objectivity with regard to her son. She was clearly besotted with her firstborn and willing to overlook considerable faults while relying on the skills of a mere child to shape him into the king he ought to become. Suddenly, I hated the lot of them.

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