By Donna Rose Smith
Alyn sighed as she carried the tray, with a full spread of tea and cream buns, up the winding stairs, past narrow window slits and long tapestries, and up to the small room adjoining the mysterious laboratory that was the ailing Grand Prince’s favourite suite in the palace. She did not mind serving the aristocrats that visited the palace, but she wished that Duke Bronzier was a little, just a little, less concerned about the welfare of his friend.
At least she wasn’t doing dishes in the kitchen under the unnerving gaze of Cook.
But when Prince Conrad had asked her, personally, she couldn’t refuse. He’d put it so sweetly “Alyn, I know you’re one of the best kitchen girls in the palace and this visitor we’ve got coming, Duke Bronzier, is an old friend of Granda’s, uh - the Grand Prince - but he’s really fussy about being served well? Do you think - oh I’m not supposed to ask - can you do it?”
“Of course!” she had said without hesitation. But now she was starting to regret it. Just a little. She walked into the room and placed the laden tray on the table just inside the door. The Duke was sitting on a straight-backed, severely straight wooden chair next to the reclining, cushioned couch the ailing Grand Prince was propped up in. Duke Bronzier looked up as Alyn went to leave, and she quivered under his bitter glare.
“The Grand Prince would like a bottle of the aged scotch from his store immediately. We must keep up his spirits.”
Alyn looked across at the Grand Prince cautiously and he nodded his assent.
“Of course, your Highness,” Alyn left speedily. But she could not help hearing (as all servants are bound to) the beginning of the Duke’s next sentence -
“Now, in regards to the inheritance, your grandchildren…”
Alyn was faster than usual in completing her orders, almost running down to the dark scotch cupboard. But on the way back up the grey stone of the steep spiralling stairs defeated her, and she, sighing, resumed her normal maid’s plodding step.
Before she reached the top and was seen, she quieted her step and paused. No doubt it was interesting, what they were talking about. Alyn didn’t really get very much entertainment in the palace except eavesdropping.
“They can’t be told that yet,” the Duke was saying, his voice raised in indignation, “They’re still children, you could wait to tell them when they come of age in a year!”
“But you forget, my friend, that I might not be here in a year.” The Grand Prince’s voice was firm, yet Alyn could hear the slight waver in it from his illness.
“I know. I understand that, your Highness.” Duke Bronzier said shortly “But I only want what is best for you and them. You and I both know it could be dangerous in the wrong hands -”
“Or yes, my dear Duke, even in the right ones.”
Alyn, puzzled, decided to advance further up. Unaware of this, the Duke continued the conversation brashly.
“And as for Princess Amira, sire, she will rule the kingdom one day. Could you burden her with what those certain books contain?”
“It will be her decision in the end, and I am confident she will know her heart by then”
“Her heart? She will need her mind uncorrupt-”
The Duke broke off as he heard Alyn’s knock.
“Come in,” he ordered “Put it down by the glasses”
Alyn, always the exemplary servant, obeyed.
“Thank you Alyn,” the Grand Prince acknowledged. Alyn started. How did he know her name? She stared at him for a second, into his grey, old eyes. Alyn looked into them and knew he had seen many, many things, but he would not see - the connection was broken by the noise of the Duke pouring the scotch into two glasses and adding a white powder to one. He tried to hand one to the Grand Prince, but the Prince held up a hand.
“Not now, I can take my tonic after I have seen my grandchildren. They deserve that.” Then, addressing Alyn, he said “My dear, please go out into the laboratory to fetch Conrad and Amira.”, and then somehow so only she could hear, “Remember, they are your greatest allies.”
The Duke, obviously annoyed at the change in events, said rather stiffly
“I’ll be going now. I’ll be back to drink to your health and make sure you take your tonic.”
He proceeded out the small door that Alyn had just come in, while Alyn went out into the laboratory in search of the twins, more confused than she ever had been in her life.