This is the prologue to the story, but the full ebook is also free and linked here to buy sites.
Note to Readers
Readers may or may not recognize some of the literary characters in this series. Readers who do recognize some or all of them may note that some of the character portrayals, ages, and other details may not be strictly accurate from the standpoint of when the stories were first written, the timeline for how the books they come from would relate to each other, and just plain reality. (For example, it’s unlikely that Bagheera would have lived to see Mowgli’s son arrive at age 12, and if he did, it’s unlikely he’d still be able to hunt and track.)
I have modified characters to make them fit my story, but I hope I am at least true to the spirit of the great 1800s classics this work was inspired by. If you are interested in a little more on the whos, whys, and hows of these characters, there is an afterword giving more information, including notes about the characters and a “deleted scene” of Mac Campbell and Rose reading biographies of the Alexander Legacy Company members.
Bohemia 188–: 1
“En garde!” Trevor Newsome yelled as he assumed his fencing pose. The foil in his right hand was aimed at my nose. His left hand was propped on his hip.
I saluted, bringing the bell of my own foil up to my chin before I mirrored his pose with my own left hand back, away from my body.
“Right. Forgot all ’bout that bit.” He quickly mimicked my salute.
The tips of our foils tapped as we settled into position and waited. I could stand here all day, but I knew I wouldn’t have to. At our first bout I had been panic-stricken to discover Trevor was a more than passable fencer. Even two years in the service of my country with a cavalry sabre had given me precious little advantage over this English ambassador’s son and his practice foil. But after two weeks’ worth of bouts with Trevor, I knew what to expect, and for once, no lump of ice formed in my stomach.
He beat my blade and stepped in. I quickly retreated and parried long before the tip of his foil came close. I set up to drive in my own attack. Trevor stepped back and brought his blade on line to continue his effort. My last parry had left me in a vulnerable position. I snapped my wrist back into place, collecting his weapon on the way as he stepped in. Trevor lowered the tip of his foil under mine and arced a textbook-perfect disengage by looping his tip under my blade and coming up on the other side. He continued his thrust from the other side of my foil.
The point of his foil threatened to take on the proportions of an elephant’s head in its breakneck course toward my face. I stepped back, whirled my blade around in a circular parry, and deflected his blade to the side. Without giving him time to reset, I extended my arm in a thrust. Trevor retreated out of range but I stayed with him, advancing one step for each of his retreats. He tried a parry of his own, but I lowered the point of my foil long enough to evade the attack before popping back up on the other side.
Trevor’s eyes widened. He lost his footing and fell backward. A whoosh of air escaped his lungs as he landed on his back. As my momentum carried me forward, I hopped in place a few times before I could regain my balance. Half the gilt-edged, mirrored wall panels testified to my near escape from joining Trevor on the parquet floor.
I blew out a breath and offered my hand to Trevor to help him off the floor of the fencing salon.
“Seriously, Florrie, didja mean all that stuff in the speech you gave in government class today?” he asked as we tossed our foils toward the clockwork arms of the self-sorting foil cabinet, made sure they were caught this time, and trudged off to shower and change.
I glanced sideways at Trevor and didn’t answer for a long moment. “I seldom say things I don’t mean, Newsome,” I said cautiously.
“Say, sorry, old chap, ‘spect I’m s’pposed to call you ‘yer highness,’ or ‘Prince Florizel’, or some sort of rot, eh wot?” Trevor’s blue eyes looked slightly down to meet my grey ones and he grinned a little uncertainly.
He bounced alongside me with a good-natured grin pasted on his handsome but rather vacuous face, grabbing a towel from the rumbling steam-powered valet machine puttering around the classroom and rubbed it over his shock of blond curls while passing a second one to me. I hung it around my neck after wiping my own thick dark hair and taming my newly-acquired but somewhat unruly beard.
We had just become acquainted when we were paired up in fencing class at the beginning of the term. I admit I had been put off at first by the gawky Englishman and his silly aristocratic drawl, but the fellow was a passable fencer, better than most in the class. Out of politeness, I had invited Trevor to a weekend of shooting on the family estate and had been astounded to find him a capital shot and a pleasant conversationalist.
The silly drawl remained but, somewhat against my will, I was beginning to like the son of the latest British ambassador to Bohemia. There had been such a long line of short-lived tenants of the embassy that I did not hold out much hope that Trevor and his family would remain. As king, my father had worked hard to expand freedom and opportunity and had loved the British and their parliamentary notions. He, however, had died in a hunting accident. When my uncle Rodolfo had become regent ten years ago I had quickly realized that not everyone in the family shared my father’s views.
The British ambassadors had been trying to persuade Uncle Rodolfo to continue the gradual change toward the more representative government my father had favored. It was a lost cause. My uncle had ostensibly taken the throne only until I should come of age but that day was fast approaching and Uncle Rodolfo’s grip on the throne had only been tightening.
I was becoming more anxious about the rising discontent and the growing influence of the socialists on the people. They were ripe for exploitation, and that had been the substance of my oral presentation in the government class Trevor and I attended together.
“You sound like you oughter to stand up for parliament, old bean.” Trevor broke in on my depressing musings. “You inspire me to stand up for parliament.”
“I wish there were a true parliament here, Trevor,” I sighed. “Come shooting at the estate this weekend again, won’t you? My sister quite dotes upon you.”
“Thanks, I’d be delighted, and I quite dote on your sister as well, don’tcha know.” Trevor grinned. Sophia actually did enjoy Trevor’s company. She chattered on about how his hair curled just so under his left ear and how his height was four or five inches in excess of mine. Trevor was open in his admiration of Sophia’s glossy black curls and the family grey eyes that took on the color of the wearer’s clothing. Sophia had lately gone from favoring her childish pink frills to shades of lavender and purple. Trevor had declared her eyes to be “Violet pools into which he would happily dive and drown, don’tcha know.”
The evening meals had become torture for me and tonight was worse than usual as we sat in miserable silence at the lavish banquet for four. Our palace was filled with pink-veined white marble, old art, treasures that should have filled us with pride in Bohemia’s past and hope for its future.
But my mother had been for a long time blatantly trying to attract my uncle’s attention away from the pretty young ladies-in-waiting and get him to marry her. Uncle Rodolfo was five years younger and clearly had no interest. I both grieved for and despised my mother for her unseemly deportment. My uncle had made several public and pointed attempts to stop her equally public and heedless flirtations.
“Mama, how do you like this new ribbon I got today?” Even Sophia was trying to distract our mother tonight, it was so unbearable.
“Do you not find the caviar particularly nice this evening, Rodolfo?” Mother pushed the dish nearer to my uncle’s elbow and could clearly not spare a glance for Sophia’s very becoming violet ribbons. “I rejected three of the samples the chef brought because I knew which one you would like best, dearest.”
“You might have saved yourself and the chef the trouble, Magda,” muttered Rodolfo. “I have no stomach for caviar when I am incessantly presented with sheep’s eyes wherever I go in this blasted house!”
Mother had no pride or sense by this time. A decade with the apparent usurper of the throne living in our house had taught her nothing but desperation. “Now, Rodolfo, I know you don’t mean these unkind little jabs you make,” she wheedled. “I would do anything to please you. Just tell me what you desire.”
A serving maid passed him with the remains of a tureen of cold soup. Rodolfo snatched the dish from her and flung it straight over my mother, dashing her from crown to toe in blobs of green slime.
“I desire you to leave me in peace. I have no intention of taking up with my brother’s used goods!” He thrust himself away from the table, throwing down chairs and rattling every piece of crockery in the china cabinets as he stormed out. Sophia screamed and rang for the maids. As the women conducted my sobbing mother from the dining room I raced after Rodolfo.
“I demand satisfaction,” I cried, catching him up in the great hall and spinning him round to face me. “How dare you treat my mother so, when you are nothing but a guest in our home and do but temporarily mind my father’s throne for me?”
Rodolfo stared at me as if he had forgotten my existence. I was twenty years old now, and topped him by two or three inches. We both wore the ceremonial swords of our rank and I was certain that my military training and subsequent practice had given me the skill I needed to drive this loathsome beast out of my house. For ten years I had been asleep, a child waiting for some magical intervention that would restore happiness to my home. It had come to me in a flash that the only intervention that would save my mother from future embarrassment and distress, and my kingdom from this heedless tyrant, was my own action.
“Go back to your studies, little scholar,” sneered Rodolfo. “I’ll call you when the kingdom is ready for a student of republican freedoms. Right now it wants a strong, aristocratic hand, and it has one.”
I backhanded him across the face. My royal signet ring cut him on the cheek and he hissed in rage. “My education is now complete,” I snapped. “I have learned everything I need to know about selfishness and cruelty right here at my own dinner table. I give you until Saturday to pack and leave with your honor and your life as a prize you do not deserve. If I awaken on that day and you are still here, my sword will speak instead of my tongue!”
Rodolfo suddenly relaxed and made a sweeping bow to me. I took a step backward, baffled by his change in demeanor. “Your mercy is unparalleled, my liege lord,” he said with his head still bowed and his eyes on the ground. “After Saturday I swear you shall see my face no more.” He bowed himself away.
For the rest of the week I brooded about Rodolfo. He had acquiesced entirely too easily. The servants were clearly packing up his belongings. I heard that he had already arranged lodgings in town. Was it possible that he really intended to give up the throne and just leave things to me? I had met anxiously with the men who had advised my father but who had been scarce since his death, virtually banished by Rodolfo. They had been delightful company and greatly encouraging.
It seemed as if Rodolfo had made too many assumptions based on my youth and indifference over the last decade. Legally he was still only a regent and I was assured that I had a secure, unassailable claim to the throne. In six months I would turn twenty-one and no one would be able to deny me my kingdom. I determined to be ready to receive it and these good men, my father’s comrades in arms, his advisors, and his closest friends, promised to stand by me and teach me what I needed to know to be the kind of king my father had planned to be himself. We met every spare moment I was not in classes, different members of this newly-formed advisory council and I.
On Saturday I would gather them all together and we would prepare the paperwork that would remove Rodolfo as regent and place Lord Armond of Vanara in the regency position until my birthday. We would work all weekend if necessary and file the documents on Monday. With Rodolfo physically and legally gone from the palace I could begin to try to get my home, my family, and my kingdom back in order.
The end of classes on Friday finally came and I packed up my books and started to trudge across campus. Trevor accosted me on the steps of the lecture hall with a pile of hunting gear and to my horror I realized that I had forgotten inviting him to spend the weekend. He saw it in my face and gracefully tried to get me out of the mess I had made.
“Pshaw, old man, my mistake entirely,” he said as I began to babble an apology. “‘Course you said next weekend, not this weekend. Pater and Mater had some to-do they wanted me to attend anyway.”
“Trevor, please, come anyway,” I insisted. It occurred to me that I was going to need the British ambassador’s good will, and his help, to make the changes I intended to make in my government. Besides, before the weekend work began in earnest I might welcome a diversion of my attention from all this. “I have some princely business that I need to attend to part of the time, but I’m sure we can squeeze in some shooting and Sophia will be delighted to see you.”
We arrived at the estate and Sophia greeted us with bright eyes and her violet ribbons more plentiful than usual. It was just the three of us for dinner. My mother had not joined us since Rodolfo’s inexcusable behavior on Monday. She had taken to her bed, I had been told by the servants, but they assured me she was not really ill, and that they would watch her carefully. Sophia had been at boarding school during the week, arriving just an hour or two before Trevor and myself.
“Is our mother well?” I asked her softly when Trevor stopped on the way to the dining room to admire a portrait taken when Sophia was five. “Should I go up and see her?”
Sophia’s eyes were not so bright when she cast them up to meet mine, then resolutely put her gaze on the floor.
“Do not, please, my dear brother,” she whispered. “It was so brave of you to confront uncle. But mama does not think you will succeed in taking over the throne. She says we are ruined and shall be destitute without uncle’s goodwill. She has said she will not see you, and so wrongly blames you for the misery she brought on herself. I ought to tell you – She has been ordering the servants to pack my things and hers, and she is convinced we shall be thrown out on the street by uncle in the morning.”
“Little sister, trust me,” I said, touching her arm. “Tomorrow our uncle will be gone from this house forever and you and mother will be protected as long as I am alive to do it.”
Sophia stretched up on tiptoe to kiss me. “I pray God it may be so.”
Trevor stopped worshiping at the shrine of the Infanta Sophia and we made a pleasant supper full of Trevor’s silly jokes and Sophia’s schoolgirl news. I confess I was a poor host and a poorer conversationalist but those two had no real need of me. I began to wonder if my little sister was falling in love. Trevor and I got in a little shooting before dark and we stayed up very late talking. I got to know him and like him even better, though I have to confess as we shook hands and said good night I still thought him lacking in the seriousness toward life that I prided myself on possessing.
Bohemia 188–: 2
I awoke the next morning to a heavy pounding. A crowd of men burst into my bedchamber, all clad in black, their faces swathed in scarves, bearing rifles. Before I could grab the pistol I kept in my nightstand they were upon me.
“Death to the aristocracy!” They shouted. “Bohemia for the people!” I fought like a demon but there were too many. A black hood slipped over my head and I was dragged barefooted and in my nightshirt downstairs and out onto the terrace. They bound me to a pillar.
All my dreams, all my confidence in my own ability evaporated and I saw myself as dust returning to dust. Oddly enough, I remembered the visit father and I had made just before his death to the little chapel in the British embassy and the rosy-cheeked minister who had made me welcome while I waited for father to meet with the ambassador. It was a strange,
comparatively plain place to worship God in. But the chaplain asked me if he could pray for me, for my father, for Bohemia, and I shyly told him I would be glad if he would. In my lifetime I had seen so much pageantry in religion and so many I trusted were servants of God, yet as those hammers clicked on those unseen weapons I prayed for that little minister to be praying for me as he had promised he would.
A zing, a grunt, and a thud. Those were the next sounds I heard. After that came confused yelling and feet shuffling.
“Right, then. Shove off, the lot of you. I’ve lots of loadings and you can see my aim is all right. That was the warning shot.”
It was Trevor, speaking, as I gathered, from the balcony outside his room. More shuffling, and then what sounded like a stampede with many weapons clattering to the ground. I struggled to free myself but Trevor was at my side cutting me loose before I made any headway. When the blackness lifted as he pulled away the hood I just looked into his eyes without a word.
“Right.” There was no vacant look in Trevor’s eyes this morning. “There are some still ransacking the house. I had to climb down the trellis – Sorry about your sister’s roses. I only managed to bring along some trousers and boots for you, and they’re mine, so sorry again. Your mother and sister are gone, safe, I hope. I want you to come with me to the embassy before those chaps gather their courage and return for you.”
“My mother and sister are gone? Were they taken by these men? We must look for them!”
He was dragging me along the terrace to the stables with a strength I would not have believed he possessed. He threw open the stable doors. “Old chap, the carriage is gone too. There’s not a servant on the premises either. I suspect they vacated during the night. Your mama must have been warned this attack was coming and made your sister go too. I’m almost certain they’re away, but we’ll look into that when you’re safe. Thank the Lord they’ve let the saddle horses be in their anxiety to dispatch you and loot the palace.”
Trevor took me to the British Embassy, rousted his father out of bed, and demanded that he offer me asylum. His father met me very civilly in his dressing gown. Both of us persuaded Trevor that asylum was not what was needed at all, but a real understanding of what had happened and what needed to be done.
“Realistically, your highness, it’ll be many hours before I can get any information,” the ambassador said kindly. “In the meantime please consider yourself our guest. We’ll soon know what’s what, though I confess I’ve heard no socialist rumblings just lately to explain this incredible thing. Dashed if it doesn’t beat me.”
Trevor’s mother joined us in a little while and clucked in sympathy, also expressing her fervent hope that my mother and sister were indeed safe.
I spent time in the embassy chapel. The little chaplain I had met ten years ago was long gone and no one served in his place, but I could pray for myself and my people, and I did. The ambassador had begged me not to show myself openly but I arranged the curtains so I could see through a slit and not be seen, kneeling before a little vaulted window seat. Trevor had tried to divert me with any number of things but a nagging conviction was growing on me. I kept trying to make anything make sense any other way but what I knew must be the truth. I could only crouch at the window and churn the thoughts around in my mind when the prayers failed to just pour out of me “without ceasing” as they ought to have.
Trevor’s father returned after our uneaten luncheon was long cleared away. He conducted me into his study and Trevor insisted upon coming along.
“Your highness, I have spoken at length with many officials in the city. They have communicated with their counterparts in the area surrounding your estate. They assure me there is no uprising, no socialist revolution going on. Things are peaceful and calm, and your uncle is in possession of the palace and at a loss to know where you are.”
“Rot!” Trevor burst out. “Father, I saw the blighters with my own eyes, heard ’em shoutin’ slogans! They were ransackin’ the house and Florrie would have been ventilated in another minute!”
“Prince Rodolfo is on his way here as we speak.” Trevor’s father did not give his son a glance but kept his eyes on me. “Do you wish to speak with him when he arrives? I strongly advise you not to, lad, before you answer. There’s something rotten here, though we’re far from Denmark. My counsel is to let me speak to his highness your uncle here in my study. You, with my humblest apologies, shall be secreted in that closet there so that you may hear what he says.”
“Father, why would anybody lie about a socialist attack on the palace?” Trevor demanded. “I’ll testify we barely got out alive! Maybe they didn’t know I was there, and that’s all that allowed me to save Florrie, but to say it never happened! What ineffable twaddle! Prince Rodolfo wasn’t even there! How the blazes does he know anything? I tell you, men with black scarves on their faces were tossing pottery and smashing cabinets looking for valuables!”
“What is your decision, your highness?” Still the father ignored his son.
“I shall do as you advise, ambassador,” I responded after a long, agonizing moment.
“Sadly I have no idea when he will actually arrive,” the ambassador admitted. “If I could be so presumptuous as to suggest it, however, I believe it will be quite soon, so I must regretfully advise –”
I rose from my seat in front of his desk and headed into the closet.
“No, Trevor, you may not stay and confront Prince Rodolfo,” I heard the ambassador say. I could not catch Trevor’s side of the conversation, only that they seemed to be arguing while father pushed son out of the room. Rodolfo arrived less than five minutes later. Ambassador Newsome received him with cool dignity.
“I have come in hopes of gaining information about my dear nephew Florizel,” Rodolfo said after the artificially polite greetings were exchanged. “His mother and sister reported to me that they were leaving on a trip to Switzerland this morning, but when they went to rouse Florizel to bid him farewell he was nowhere to be found.
“The train does not wait, as you well know, and they assumed he must have gone out early to shoot and forgotten about their departure. He can be so irresponsible where his pleasure is concerned. I have chastised him over and over on that score. At any rate, Princess Magda made me swear to telegraph her when I located him. I have had servants scouring the preserve and grounds in vain. But now I hear he has come bothering you, Ambassador, with some wild tale of a socialist attack on the palace? I came to see what on earth has disordered his mind to such an extent that he would concoct this fantasy.”
“I have received a report that certain things at the palace have been damaged, and that shots were fired,” Ambassador Newsome said cautiously.
“Well, well, when Florizel has indulged himself a little too much, occasionally the crockery and marble suffer,” Rodolfo chuckled. “Of course, I have servants doing some repairs and cleaning up the little mess he made with his celebrations. I really must ask him how it was that he celebrated so enthusiastically that he could not be roused to bid his mother and sister farewell. Usually even he is not quite that thoughtless.”
“Ah, well, your highness,” the ambassador said after a long silence. “I regret that I cannot accommodate you in your obviously fervent desire to locate your nephew. I simply cannot tell you where he might be.”
“Really, Ambassador?” Rodolfo had been speaking lightly, laughing at my supposed drunken riot and reprehensible neglect of my family. After the ambassador spoke his tone took on an icy edge. “I have it on the best authority that he came here early this morning.”
“He did. Indeed he did. Still, as to his whereabouts at this precise moment, I can give you no information.”
“This is most strange,” Rodolfo persisted. “Did he not leave the estate in the company of your son this morning? Might I perhaps question young Newsome? He might be able to aid in my search. My sister-in-law really is most concerned. She shall not enjoy a moment of her holiday if Florizel continues to plague her with this callous disregard for her peace of mind.”
“Why would any able-bodied young Englishman with a gun and time on his hands be cooped up in the British Embassy in Bohemia on a bright Saturday, your highness?” Ambassador Newsome scoffed. “Trevor is not available for questioning, I assure you, and I have no idea when he will be. I would not advise you to wait about for him to appear, either. In fact,” the ambassador’s voice took on a hard note, “I strongly advise you not to linger here at all. Not one moment longer.”
I could hear both chairs scrape and footsteps retreat. Someone began to pace the room and I heard blinds and drapes roughly pulled shut. After a few of the longest minutes of my life, next after my time spent in a black hood earlier in the day, the ambassador opened the closet door.
“Sit down, lad – I mean your highness. I’ll get Trevor so I don’t have to say this twice.”
I sank into a chair and tried once again to stop the maelstrom spinning inside my head. The ambassador returned with Trevor and sat him down beside me.
“Briefly, Trevor, Prince Rodolfo has accused Prince Florizel of doing whatever damage we might find at the palace himself in a drunken fit, of shamefully neglecting or perhaps even threatening the safety of his mother and sister, and of being mad, all in the space of fifteen minutes.”
“What?” Trevor exploded, vaulting out of his chair. “Father, did you tell him I was there? Did you tell him I saw everything? What did he say to that?”
“I told him no such thing,” Ambassador Newsome snapped. “Sit down and listen to what your friend has already understood, I have no doubt, but you are too thickheaded to grasp. Prince Rodolfo has just staged a coup. The throne is now his because Florizel has gone mad, rampaging in a drunken fit, smashing a swath of destruction through the palace, and driving his mother and sister into hiding for fear of his rage.”
Trevor spluttered and swore and his father let him run down before trying to speak again. “Mark my words, son, and Prince Florizel. Before the day is out a proclamation will be issued, stamped with the royal seal, declaring a hard target search for the poor young prince, whom much learning hath apparently driven mad. Anyone who has any knowledge of his whereabouts will be compelled on pain of torture or imprisonment to deliver him up.
“Certain advisors and friends of the former king are known to have met with the prince during the week. They have already been rounded up for questioning, including Lord Armond of Vanara, and I doubt they will see the light of day again.” I went white at this quiet, calm statement, but the ambassador had more to say. “When the prince is located and returned to the loving arms of his uncle who would be king, he will either be quietly executed at once, or imprisoned in a madhouse until everyone has forgotten him, and then he will be exterminated.”
“I don’t believe it!” Trevor said, but his voice was very quiet this time, and he stared at me with a very lost look. “Father, there must be something you can do. Surely now you can give him asylum.”
“Trevor, your father has told you the truth, the motivation, the facts behind my uncle’s treachery,” I said wearily. “None of this will be public knowledge or in any way possible to prove. Asylum is for acknowledged enemies of the state. My uncle longs to embrace me and shepherd me back to sanity. And he will have me. There is nowhere I can be safe in Bohemia. I would endanger you and your family, yea, everyone in my country, if I try to conceal myself here or with any of my people.”
“Then join your mother and sister in Switzerland!” Trevor seized upon his next absurd idea with equal vigor.
“I do not even know if they truly are in Switzerland,” I reminded him. “If they are, my uncle will have made certain they are poisoned against me. My mother was well along on the path to hating me already and she has all power over Sophia. They will be well-hidden if I chose to search for them. Frankly, my uncle has much reason to want my whole family swept from his path. I cannot endanger them, either.”
“Officially, an ambassador of the British government cannot become involved in the internal affairs of the nation in which he lives as a guest,” Trevor’s father said, speaking slowly and carefully and looking straight at me again. Trevor started to erupt again and his father pinched a certain nerve at the base of his son’s neck. This reduced him to a paralytic whimper and scowling silence.
“Officially, I can do nothing to aid the much-sought-after mad young Prince of Bohemia in his evasion of his power-mad despotic uncle. Officially, I am not in fact harboring that young mad person in my residence at this very moment,” the ambassador continued. “Officially, I can only resign my post in protest, pack up my household and all our steamer trunks with what is most precious to us –” he laid special emphasis on the last phrase and looked keenly at Trevor “– as quickly as possible, and book passage on the earliest ship leaving for England. Officially, I would have to have my family and all their trunks packed and onboard a ship before the sealed proclamation I have warned the prince is coming is in fact placed on this desk. It is possible that such a proclamation may not arrive until Monday, but I am uncertain it will take that long.”
Trevor rubbed his shoulder peevishly and looked at his father with a complete lack of comprehension. His father raised his eyes and hands to heaven.
“Trevor, I am going to roust out the servants and tell them to begin packing at once. I am going to have them send a trunk down here to my study and I am going to place you in charge of seeing that it is filled with the proper cargo. I am going to leave this room and I am not going to return until that trunk is loaded and locked and I can have no possible knowledge of what you place inside. Do you understand me?”
Trevor gaped at his father. His father swatted him on the back of the head. He pantomimed opening a trunk, pointed at me, pointed into the phantom trunk, pantomimed closing and locking the trunk, and then held out his hands imploringly to his son. Comprehension finally dawned in Trevor’s expression. He still stood irresolute.
“Oughtn’t we – y’know, Pater – have a few air holes so Florrie don’t expire along the way?” he asked pathetically.
“I shall instruct John to send for a carpenter equipped with wood-boring implements,” his father replied. “I am leaving now, Trevor. Be so good as to inform me when that trunk is packed, and I shall have it sent straight to the docks. I shall have John see to its safe and gentle delivery on shipboard personally.”
Trevor watched his father go almost all the way out the door before he lunged and tackled him with a most awkward embrace.
“You’re the real prince, Pater,” he said with a huge grin.
“Do get hold of yourself, son,” the ambassador said stiffly. “And Prince Florizel, I know you will honor your obligation to be gone from my sight by the time I return to my study.”
I gave him a martial salute, all the tribute I knew he could bear. “You shall not see me again in Bohemia, sir. I know my duty.”
I had my life and a lifelong friendship, but I cannot otherwise speak of the trip into exile in London as a pleasant memory. My trunk made its jolting way to the harbor, swung giddily through the air in spite of the servant John’s muffled shouts of, “No, no, my master specifically instructed that trunk be hand-loaded!” and found its misguided way deep into the hold. It took Trevor, his father, and their servants a day and a half to find it and have it brought to their stateroom amid endless protests that the ship was overloaded with passengers and no room could be spared for a trunk to even be carried through the passageways. The former British ambassador to Bohemia made himself odious to the entire crew but finally got me to their room and freed me from my prison.
After I had managed to recover some shreds of humanity Trevor showed me a letter he had received from Sophia just before the ship had sailed from port.
Mama has decided I must go to boarding school in Switzerland because it is less expensive, so we have left. I shall miss you very much and hope sometime you might visit us. Mama asks to know what salary a British ambassador makes. Uncle Rodolfo says a girl should marry and provide for her mother but I am just turned fifteen and you are the only gentleman I know who could help us out of our trouble. So if you would like to court me, Mama and Uncle Rodolfo give you leave to do so. Please write me very soon.
Your affectionate Sophia.”
“Will you write to her?” I asked, swallowing the bile that rose anew in my throat.
Trevor looked from the letter to me and didn’t answer at first.
“Old chap, when a pretty girl like your sister writes a lonely fellow like me and begs him to court her, all the instincts scream, ‘Say yes!’ But truth be told, and I beg your pardon because it’s your sister we’re speaking of, but she ought to have writ to you, not to me, ought she not have? Don’t it strike you as wrong that she don’t even ask me if you are alive, don’t seem to care a lick about you? Again, beggin’ your pardon, Florrie, but I’m not that fond of a girl who looks out for her own future without inquirin’ as to whether her own brother even has a future.”
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Sophronia Belle Lyon