The prince took the man’s words to heart, and the next time he had a chance, he asked the Captain of the Guard about him.
“Him?” the Captain replied. “He’s a guard. What do you want to know?”
Though as a prince he was technically higher than the Captain, they had grown up as friends. Neither felt a need for formality.
“What’s his name?” the Prince asked.
“That’s a Outlander’s name, isn’t it?”
The Captain grunted and nodded. “Yes. That’s where he’s from, or, where his family’s from. They came over back in the Elian War.”
“That was against the Outlanders, though.”
“And yet your great, great, great grandfather was very keen on having Khalai’s ancestor around. That’s why he gets to wear the black shawl; special privileges from your ancestor to his family. You might ask His Majesty your father about it, I’m sure he knows the history better than I.”
The Prince gave a short laugh. “I hardly get a chance to say good morning to my father, he’s so busy.”
They stood in silence for a few minutes before the Captain broke the silence. “You might ask him,” he said, nodding towards Sheefeth.
The Prince did not respond.
At dinner, the Prince and the Princess sat across from each other, three seats down from their father, with various other family members in between. He told her he had asked the Captain about the guard that had woken them.
“The one of no importance?” the Princess mused.
“Yes. Well, he did say to be curious.”
She nodded with a smile on her face.
“His name’s Khalai Sheefeth.” He relayed the rest of the Captain’s information. Most of it.
When he finished, the Princess put her fork down and stared at him. “He suggested you ask Sheefeth, didn’t he?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Brother, I have known you for all sixteen years of my life. Do you think I can’t read your mind?”
The Prince sighed. “Yeah. Alright, fine. He did suggest that, but I didn’t tell you because I knew you would agree with him.”
“I would have suggested it if he hadn’t. So why don’t you?”
If it weren’t for her ladyship training, the Princess would have spat out her drink. “That’s your reason? ‘It’s cheating’? I didn’t know curiosity was a game.”
“You looking forward to the dance tonight?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Are you looking forward to the dance tonight?”
“Are you just going to ignore me?”
“Are you looking forward to the dance tonight? I hear Lord Kobrol will be there.”
“We’re not done— he will?”
The Prince nodded. “That’s what I heard.”
“Well, then, I am looking forward to the dance, but we’re still not done talking about this Sheefeth.”
“I believe we are.” The Prince wiped his face and stood up. “If you excuse me, and if you will not, I have some work I need to get done before the dance.”
The Princess was the picture of indignant elegance.
“See you at the dance, sister.”
* * * * *
The dance was in full swing by the time the Princess saw Lord Kobrol. She was just about ready to find her brother and give him an earful when Kobrol approached her and asked her to dance. Of all of the suitors presented to her, Kobrol was the most attractive and the one her brother had liked the most.
“Enjoying the night, your Highness?” Kobrol asked as they danced.
Unlike her dances with her brother, this was not about to turn into a frolic. “The night is still young,” she replied tactfully.
“So it is. Much can happen in a few hours.” They danced for two dances, and then Kobrol asked if she would care for a drink. “These dances are a tiring sport.”
“Yes, a drink would be a pleasant change of pace.”
While she was waiting for the drink, her brother spun away from the dance and sat next to her. “So?” he said breathlessly. “How is he?”
“Pleasant.” She wasn’t about to tell him how electric the minimal touching they’d done had been. How a hand in his, one on his shoulder, and his on her back had made her heart race faster than she had ever raced her brother. Such talk wasn’t proper.
But he knew.
Eager to change the subject, she asked him, “And you? Find any fine young ladies?”
He sighed. “You know the court as well as I. The women here are a pox on our generation, with the exception sitting before me.”
“Perhaps it is your judgements that drive all the good ones away.”
“I would not need to judge if they were not judgable.” The Prince stood up. “Lord Kobrol, so good to see you. Are you enjoying the night?”
Kobrol had returned with two drinks, one of which he set in front of the Princess. “Thank you, your Highness. The night is still young.”
“Much can happen in a few hours,” added the Princess. The two of them shared a smile as she took a sip from her glass.
The Prince looked between them for a moment and then shrugged. “The dance calls to me. Enjoy your drinks.”
“Your friend is by the north door!” the Princess called after him as he left.
The Prince glanced towards the door, groaned, and shook his head.
The Princess just smiled. They weren’t done talking about Sheefeth. Not just yet. They still… they…
“Your Highness, are you alright?” Kobrol caught her as she began to fall forward.
“Y-yes, I think so. Just lightheaded all of a sudden.”
Kobrol helped her up. “It’s probably this room. All these people can be suffocating.”
The Princess nodded weakly, and they made their way to the door, trying as best they could not to draw attention. Neither wished for the celebrations to be soured just because of a faint Princess.
They left the room and found a nearby bench to sit on. “How are you feeling now?” Kobrol asked.
“A bit better, thank you,” she lied. She was feeling worse, in all honesty, but as with the rest of the court, she didn’t want the celebration soured by a faint Princess, especially with Kobrol. “I think I just need to lie down for a moment.”
Kobrol immediately got up and took off his outer coat, folded it up, and put it on one end of the bench to act as a pillow. The Princess thanked him weakly and lay down.
Her rest was short lived.
Screams from the dance hall popped her eyes wide open. With some effort, she sat up and saw Kobrol running over to the door. He opened it a moment, releasing the screams from within, and then quickly closed it. He ran back and picked the Princess up without asking permission, but she couldn’t muster the strength to protest.
He ran her to the garden and laid her among some bushes by the river. “Don’t move. I’ll be back for you.” Then he ran away.
The Princess lied there for what seemed like eternity before she heard anyone.
“Where’d he take her?”
The Princess tried to call out, but her body felt paralyzed.
“Why’d he have to take her anywhere?”
Her eyes felt like they were stitched shut.
“This would’ve been simple if they’d all just stuck to dancing.”
The disembodied voices passed by and trailed off into the distance. The Princess waited another eternity before Kobrol returned. “Your Highness, are you alright?”
She could not answer. She felt a hand on her neck, just under her jaw.
“She’s alive,” she heard Kobrol call out. “Just asleep.”
She wasn’t asleep, though.
Kobrol picked her up and carried her out of the garden. At some point along the way, she blacked out, and when she awoke, she found herself in her room with Kobrol by her bedside. He was leaning forward and staring off into space.
She sat herself up. “Lord Kobrol? What happened?”
Kobrol didn’t speak. He just stared straight ahead.
“Kobrol. What happened.”
He sat up straight and looked at her. His face was a shadow of the pleasant charm he used to have. “There was… an attempt… on the lives of the royal family.”
The Princess stared into his eyes. She didn’t want to hear what he was about to say, but she had to.
“Your parents are dead, and your brother is missing. You are the Princess Regent.”