Three Doesn’t Have to Be a Crowd
Franz thought that people might find going to church to be less of a chore if it wasn’t always so early in the morning. He always went, but he did wish that it could be at some time that wasn’t sunrise.
Though, Franz supposed, that would take otherwise useful time out of the day. Maybe the Catechism was on to something with their timing.
He’s sat with Gabrielle and Gavin through an entire sermon on the evils of deception and the need to see through lies, and Franz couldn’t say he wasn’t grateful it was over. “They really need to cushion these seats,” Gavin complained as they made their way out of the First Church of the Blessed.
“Faith isn’t supposed to be comfortable, Gavin,” Franz reminded him.
“It’s also not supposed to give me blisters.”
“Maybe it is. Saints and martyrs all got worse than some blisters.”
“I’m not a saint or a martyr.” Gavin rolled his eyes.
“No, just a grumpy little boy with a sore backside.”
“You want to fight, buddy?”
“What, right here, in this holy place? You should be ashamed, Gavin.”
“I should never have let the two of you talk to each other,” Gabrielle interrupted, shaking her head at them both. “Try to act like normal people until we’re alone, at least.”
“Normalcy is for people with no imagination,” Franz told her, as they made their way out of the church. With the slightest of nods, Gavin indicated something off to Franz’s left. Franz glanced over there and saw a cascade of pink flowers planted into a massive stone planter off to the side a bit.
He did owe Gabrielle a flower for today.
Gavin had been showing him the flowers, but Franz noticed something he needed to do equally as much and smiled, turning it on the two of them. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t think I don’t see you bowing out as soon as the High Presbyter is headed our way.” Gabrielle didn’t sound impressed.
Franz hadn’t even seen the man, though he did now, old and heavy with it, huffing over to the three of them. Gavin was looking around for an escape. “Those cushionless pews seem a lot more inviting now, don’t they?” Franz asked, bowing and moving back a bit. “If I’m here when he gets here, how can I save you from him in a few strategic minutes?”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Gabrielle grumbled, but she didn’t stop Franz from moving away, over towards the planter. As a bonus, her attention was taken up with the High Presbyter just after Franz left.
He made his way over to the flowers, and to the man standing in front of them. “Lord Dominic.”
“Prince Franz.” Dominic looked only a little surprised. It was not uncommon for the various members of the nobility to linger here on the steps after the week’s service, and Franz had seen Dominic here a number of times. Finally he was on his own, and here was a perfect opportunity to talk to him without it looking suspicious. “Quite a service today, wasn’t it?”
“It always is,” Franz said, reaching out to pull a flower from the arrangement, looking down at it as if inspecting it. Which, to be fair, he was. “Lecturing a room full of liars about lying.”
“As if the High Presbyter’s position is achieved only through piety and prayer, and not through political machinations of its own.” Dominic smiled. His combed-back hair shone in the sun. “The irony was palpable. I didn’t realize you were interested in flowers.”
“I’ve not yet given one to my princess today,” Franz said, holding it up for Dominic’s approval. “I did promise her one every day, and I hardly think breaking such a small promise makes for a good start to our relationship, don’t you agree?”
“So you steal one from the Catechism.”
“Perhaps I shall tell her I grew it myself. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the irony as well.”
Dominic gave him a chuckle at that. “Perhaps she will. I’m glad you and she are getting along.”
“As am I. It would make for a most depressing marriage otherwise.”
“I suspect you didn’t come over here to talk to me about flowers and your impending marriage, my prince.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where that were reasonable?” Franz asked, looking off into the crowd. “At least we have this nice pretense.”
“And what would you like to discuss today?” Dominic asked him, also watching the crowd.
Franz was watching Orwell Feestings talk to Mia Hardhold, while Turner and Matthew chatted a little ways away. “I underestimated him; Lord Orwell, I mean.” Turner was wearing a silver ring on his finger.
“I didn’t think he was capable of it.” And Franz still didn’t. “I know he’s the king’s advisor, the lord of a powerful house, that he was bred into politics from his birth, but it just…surprised me a little.” Franz smiled at Dominic now. “The unfortunate consequence of my being new, I’m afraid.”
“I think that Turner and Gloria’s betrothal surprised everyone, my prince.” Dominic told him, also watching Feestings. “Orwell has always been ambitious but he’s never been the best at making that ambition a reality. I wouldn’t be too worried about not having seen it coming.”
Franz nodded. “Turner seems happy enough, at least.”
“I’m sure he is. Gloria is a lovely young lady, don’t you think?”
“Lord Dominic,” Franz chided. “You know Gabrielle is the only young lady I’m interested in.”
“And you hope to win her over with flowers,” Dominic reached up as if to touch the bloom, but didn’t. “Ambitious.”
“We’re all ambitious, Lord Dominic. That’s why we’re still here.” Franz looked sideways at Dominic now. “Lord Dominic of the White Nail, which is a place, not even a city, just a section of river. You haven’t got a family name. And you’re here anyway, talking to someone who’s going to be the king. I think you’re the most ambitious of all of us, aren’t you?”
Dominic had stiffened a little at that, but he eased now. “Perhaps. Or perhaps I’m just lucky. You have my word I’m here only to serve the crown, nothing more.”
“As are we all,” Franz was having a hard time getting a read on Dominic. He sounded sincere, but something seemed a bit off. “I didn’t mean to cast aspersions, Lord Dominic. I’m sure his Highness the king wouldn’t trust you if you weren’t trustworthy.” And useful. “But I should like to get to know you better.”
“I suspect we would both benefit from that, my prince.”
“I hear you are quite the philanthropist.” He heard it from Boey, obviously. Dominic inclined his head just so, maybe surprised, maybe not. His charity was mostly done anonymously, which Franz thought was both interesting and telling. “Perhaps I could lend some support to that orphanage you’ve been building in the…”
“Dominic! Prince Franz!”
Franz trailed off, looked up to see Kenneth Wrathwate approaching them with a smile on his face. He’d been talking to Helena a moment ago, though he seemed to have saddled Kieran with that responsibility so he could come over here. “Lord Kenneth, a pleasure.” Franz nodded as Kenneth entered their space in front of the flowers.
“You left your poor son over there to talk to Helena and Hector both?” Dominic asked, eyebrow cocked, voice full of cheer. “What has he done to deserve that?”
Kenneth laughed boisterously. “He’s a smart lad. He can keep up with them.”
“Really, now?” Dominic nodded, but didn’t sound convinced. “They’re both rather skilled conversationalists.”
“They are rather frighteningly intelligent, aren’t they?” Franz watched Kieran talk to Helena, with Hector putting in the occasional comment, most of which seemed to be accompanied with punches to the arm. Franz thought Kieran was smart too, but he had no doubt that he could not keep up with both Quates at once.
“Only frightening if it’s directed against you,” Dominic told him, and Franz nodded, though he didn’t entirely agree. “I, for one, endeavour to make sure that it is not. For everyone, not only Lady Helena.”
“Indeed,” Kenneth rumbled. “It is far better to have friends than enemies if it can be avoided. The more friends you have, the better to help you with the inevitable enemies!” He chuckled as if that had been a joke. “So, your Highness, I hear you and our princess have been getting along since your return!”
“Quite well, Lord Kenneth, thank you. I believe that Gabrielle and I are a good match.” At the very least, he liked talking to her now that they’d gotten on proper speaking terms. That was a good sign. “And I have found a new brother in Gavin as well, so all seems to have worked out for the best.”
“Wonderful to hear, your Highness. When I married my wife, her brother tried to push me out a window—and our relationship hasn’t improved since. Why, just last year when we went to her mother’s funeral, he…”
Franz glanced at Dominic, not listening to Lord Kenneth. He was the picture of attention, but just for an instant he seemed to quirk a smile at Franz.
When Kenneth paused to take a breath, Franz held out his hand in apology. “I’m very sorry, my lords, but I must take my leave. I believe my betrothed is in need of rescuing before someone saves her soul by mistake.”
Kenneth looked over at the High Presbyter, who was holding his arms apart while Gabrielle and Gavin tried to look interested, and let out a guffaw. “Yes, of course. He’s a bit of a windbag, that one. You’ll get in both of their good books if you can rescue them from him.”
“That is where I strive to be, Lord Kenneth. Excuse me. Lord Dominic.”
“Another time, Prince Franz.”
Franz nodded with a smile and abandoned Dominic to Kenneth, making his way back to the stairs. That hadn’t been as productive as he’d liked, but he could hardly do anything about Dominic with Kenneth Wrathwate bloviating all over the place.
He approached Gabrielle just in time to hear Gavin saying to the High Presbyter, “It may be best to unseal that old mausoleum, your Holiness. If they’re in the walls, that’s likely where they came from.”
“Well, we’ve not seen another one since that day, your Highness. I wouldn’t worry too much—likely it was only the one creature.”
“Still.” Gavin glanced at Gabrielle, who was looking at him a little curiously. “Are you able to contact the two who found it?”
“The young mage is named Ariel, and can be found in their academy,” the High Presbyter said to Gavin, glancing at Franz as he approached. “I believe the young knight was named Edwin.”
Gavin looked at Gabrielle again, who nodded. “I’ve seen him in the fortress. He’s good with a sword, and he’ll get better when he stops being afraid of it.”
“Maybe you could talk to him,” Gavin’s suggestion didn’t sound like a suggestion to Franz.
“You going to tell me why?”
“In any case, your Highnesses, there is no need to fear for the integrity of the church. The angels and the saints protect us always, just as they protect you and your family. It has always been thus, and our duty is merely to serve in body and soul…”
Franz sensed that this was a good time to interrupt. “Excuse me, your Holiness,” he said to the High Presbyter. “I hate to interrupt, but I’m afraid this can’t wait.”
Franz bowed before Gabrielle, presenting her the flower he’d taken. “Your flower, your Highness.”
Gabrielle took it, tapping him on either shoulder as if knighting him. She sighed. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Marry me, I hope.”
“I’ll think about it.” Shaking her head, Gabrielle regarded the flower. “You’ve beaten me again. I don’t have one for you yet.”
“Ah, love,” the High Presbyter sighed. “The most blessed of God’s gifts. I look forward to your marriage immensely, your Highnesses.”
“As do we both, your Holiness,” Gabrielle promised, taking Franz’s hand in hers.
He looked down at that, and nodded. “I shall leave you to each other, then. Until next week, princess.”
“Thank you, your Holiness.” Gabrielle nodded graciously at him, only rolling her eyes a little bit, and only when he was past. “That was a faster rescue than I was expecting,” she told Franz, grudgingly.
“The urgency of the mission increased suddenly, and it became mutual.” Franz smiled. “You’re now rescuing me from Kenneth Wrathwate, as well.”
“Oh, God.” Gabrielle took a firmer hold of Franz’s hand, guiding him down the stairs and to the carriage that was waiting for the three of them. “Let’s go before he tries to come over here.”
“I think we could outrun him,” Gavin said, chuckling. But he kept up. “I say we throw Franz at him if he tries to catch us.”
“Hey! After all I’ve done for you.”
“We must all suffer, Franz, isn’t that what you said?” Gavin asked him. “And after that very embarrassing display you just put on, I’m not sure I want to be seen with you anyway.”
“I think he’d rather speak to you, wouldn’t he?” Franz asked. “I hear he tried to sound you out to marry Kieran.” Franz had heard it from Kieran. Hearing the knowledge that Gavin preferred men apparently had greeted by Lord Kenneth with enthusiastic comments about the fact that he had a marriageable son.
Kieran didn’t like men, but that didn’t seem to matter to Lord Kenneth.
“Ah!” Gavin covered his ears, glaring. “I changed my mind. Go back to flirting with my sister.”
“I think you and Kieran would make a lovely couple, Gavin.”
“I hate you.”
“I think he’s right, Gavin,” Gabrielle said, twirling her flower.
“No.” Gavin sent Gabrielle a scandalized look. “Don’t team up on me. You two aren’t allowed to get married if you team up on me.”
“Just that it would be good for the security of the kingdom.”
“Where’s Owen, he’ll back me up on this. I need help against you two horrible people.”
“Don’t worry.” Gabrielle clapped Gavin on the arm as they reached the carriage. “I wouldn’t tear you away from Owen. I’m not that mean.”
Gavin huffed, looked at Gabrielle. “I know.”
Gabrielle smiled at him, glancing at Franz. “I’m probably going to tell him about Kieran, though.”
“God, Gabrielle, no, stop.”
“Seems only fair to me that he ought to know about the competition.” Though if it was decided that Gavin was going to marry someone, his common born lover wouldn’t be much competition at all, Franz feared. Which was too bad, because it was obvious that Gavin really did love him.
“I don’t like this. You’re the worst. We should go back to picking on Franz. Or annoying Gabrielle, that was fun.”
“Sorry, but your sister and I teaming up is kind of mandatory, you know. You’d better get used to it.” Franz smiled, waving for Gavin to get in the carriage ahead of him while Gavin glared.
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.” Gabrielle told him, giving him a shove, and Franz couldn’t help but smile at that. Gabrielle gave him a look, and he got in the carriage as well.
Gabrielle had lied. There was a blue flower sitting on the seat waiting for him.