Our guard woke us the next morning and I envied Tiago’s fresh energy as he skipped about to dress and prepare. Breakfast was a simple affair with a buffet of various cold meats and fruits and hot beverages.

I needed to speak with the Viscontessa, but she had eluded me all evening and it seemed she was doing the same now. After all, if one didn’t speak with the king-to-be, they couldn’t be expected to swear fealty, right?

It was bad manners to suggest an activity for your host, but I caught a passing servant and said, “The weather is too beautiful to remain indoors; the boy and I would love a ride across the Viscontessa’s lands and perhaps a picnic?”

He nodded graciously. “I will prepare a setìne for the day, and I will see to it your own horses are prepared.” He disappeared into the kitchen and I winked at Tiago. We wandered the gardens and he showed me some of the nooks he’d found with the other children and told me some of their stories and gossip. I recognized that he was learning to gather information from the talk, but did not yet have the experience that practice would bring. When that day came, he would be formidable, but probably governing his own lands instead of playing the role of spy.

“When do you think the Viscontessa will see us?” he asked softly.

“Not for a few hours,” I answered. “The picnic and request to ride her lands puts us both in precarious positions. If she accepts, she acknowledges my authority in even the smallest measure. If she declines, her reputation is damaged. Either I get my conversation, or I don’t. Still, it’s easy to avoid someone on a horse ride.”

“Why won’t she talk to you? Wouldn’t she want to negotiate terms?”

“Even if we did not reach an agreement and she failed to swear fealty, the act of negotiating suggests that she accepts my position. I can go to the other nobles and say we failed to come to terms instead of saying she would not acknowledge me. She saves her reputation and damages mine instead of the other way about.”

Tiago stopped and I turned to the flowers he was examining. “Straight above us is a window that leads to the chambers of her personal maid. The Viscontessa’s windows are not accessible because of a sheer wall over a water feature with buried spikes.”

I blinked at him and then looked up. Compared to a sheer wall and spikes, this looked fairly accessible. I flexed my hands thoughtfully and we continued down the path.

“Were I to go into her chambers without leave and someone saw…”

Tiago nodded. “If the maid was lured away, perhaps because of, oh, a young noble with a fever that needed tending… It’s very dark at night.”

“Surely a guard patrols.”

“And could be distracted by another guard of your household with questions or any sort.”

“You’re a devious child,” I told him. “How long did this plan take you?”

“The children showed me the fish and the spikes in the water yesterday. A few hours.”

“If the Viscontessa is too busy to see me for our ride, I will consider your proposition. It will need to be very carefully done.”

“She can’t call a guard to kill you,” he pointed out. “That would threaten her own life, attacking a royal.”

“Nobles still have rights on their own lands, and she would be justified in at least escorting me from her property. She could even keep you and argue you aren’t safe as my ward until confirmed by your great-grandmother, which could take time.”

I could see him considering the other possibilities. We finished wandering and returned to the main steps of the estate. The door was opened to allow us inside but the head butler was waiting on the bottom step of the staircase.

He bowed and said, “It is with great dismay that the Viscontessa cannot accompany you on today’s ride. She has come to find herself buried in documentation that requires her immediate attention and fears she will not be free until the day is too late for riding.”

“What a shame,” I answered as neutrally as I dared.

“She will send her best landsman with you as a guide in her place. They know the hills and trees better than any, and their family has lived her for countless generations. The history will not go unmentioned.”

“I expect it will be a satisfying engagement.”

“They will meet you in the stables, where you horses are currently being prepared.”

I put a hand on Tiago’s shoulder and turned on my heel without a word. Any witness, or gossip, would knew we were being slighted. It was important I showed that I knew as well, and that I was not satisfied.

“Tonight?” Tiago muttered.

I grunted my assent and started to consider the actions I was planning to take. Dangerous, yes; possibly fatal, but in life or reputation I wasn’t sure, and at this point I was willing to risk the former to assure the latter. I was still young, after all.

May 03, 2021

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