“This is the procedure,” he said. “When you hear your names, you will step forward and stop at the yellow dot on the floor in front of the throne. Your name will be called, and you will curtsy. Then you will exit through the opposite door. If the king asks you a question, you will answer in as few words as possible, finishing with ‘Your Majesty’. If either of the princes should address you, the same applies, but in their case, it is ‘Your Royal Highness’.”
“Of course,” replied Iolana.
“I was told you understood Brech?” said the man to Esther.
“She does,” said Iolana.
“Then, there will be no surprises?”
“No sssurprises,” said Esther.
The line moved slowly onward. They were afforded a view of the royals long before it was their turn to stand before them. His Majesty King Tybalt III was a tall, thin man who, though his red uniform seemed to hang on him, was still quite spry for his sixty-four years. His thinning hair and mutton chops were still more blond than grey. Behind the throne, on either side, stood the two princes, dressed, like their father, in red uniforms filled with medals. Twenty-four-year-old Crown Prince Tybalt was on the left, looking completely bored. His fifteen-year-old half-brother, Prince Clitus, looked more nervous than anything else.
When she was close enough to actually hear the king’s conversation, Esther paid close attention to the exchanges.
“Lord Winsdall and his daughter Lady Ewa Windsdall,” droned the announcer.
“Good day, Lord Winsdall,” said the king. “This can’t be your daughter. There has to be some kind of mistake. Why, your daughter was only this big,” he held his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart, “when last I saw her.”
“They do grow up fast, Your Majesty.”
“Tell me, young lady, do you shoot? My son is a great shot.” He waved toward Prince Tybalt.”
“I don’t, Your Majesty, but I’d love to see him shoot.”
Prince Tybalt glanced down at the young woman the way a street sweeper looks at a pile of horse dung, sniffed, and turned away.
“Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Van Josen,” called the announcer, signaling that Lord Winsdall’s time was over.
“You’re the fellow that laid the trans-ocean telegraph line, aren’t you?” asked the king.
Prince Clitus looked interested. His older brother still looked bored.
“I was the chief engineer, Your Majesty. It was a team effort.”
“Quite, quite. You should all be congratulated, and you will be. We are sure to see your name on the list for the Order of St. Ulixes.”
Mr. Van Josen bowed. Prince Clitus looked as though he wanted to say something, but held his tongue.
“And how are you finding Brech City, Mrs. Van Josen?”
“Ser gute, Majesty.”
“Sir Redry Moorn, Lady Honoria Moorn, and Lady Hortence Moorn,” called the announcer, as the Van Josens stepped away.
Prince Tybalt was suddenly interested, particularly in Lady Honoria, who was a lovely young woman in a lavender gown. Both young women batted their eyelashes at him, but he was oblivious to Lady Hortence who was pretty enough, though not in her sister’s class. He leaned over and whispered something in his father’s ear.
“Sir Redry. These are your daughters?”
“Step-daughters, Your Majesty, though they are as dear to me as if they were my own.”
“You are in the city for a few days?”
“A fortnight, Your Majesty.”
“Very good. We shall see that they are invited to the Crown Prince’s tea.”
Sir Redry bowed curtly.
“Lady Iolana Dechantagne Staff and Esther… Ssaharranah of Birmisia.”
Iolana shot Esther an annoyed glance before turning her attention to the royal family.
“Lady Iolana,” said the king. “We were sorry to hear of the death of your father Sir Radley. We found him to be a fine man.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“And we express our admiration for your mother. A most remarkable woman.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Iolana suddenly looked as if she had bitten down on a lemon.
“So.” King Tybalt rose to his feet and stepped down to stop directly in front of Esther. “This is a lizzie. We are told you understand Brech.”
“Yes, Your Majesssty.”
“Outstanding! Boys, come down here.” The two princes hurried to take spots on either side of their father. “We must know these Birmisians, as we are their king too.”
Prince Clitus looked at Iolana.
“I read your book… um, two of them—the one on dinosaurs and the history. You know, Colonel Mormont was my third cousin.”
“Twice removed, Your Highness, yes, I did know that.”
“I’m hoping to go to Birmisia some day,” he said.
“There is no reason you shouldn’t,” said the king, slapping the prince on the shoulder, and then turning to ascend to the throne. “How are you being treated here in Brechalon?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Well, Your Majesty, there seems to be…” started Esther.
“She’s being treated very well,” interrupted Iolana.
“Excellent. We shall hope to see you again before you sail for home.”
“Sir Reynold Isenn,” called the announcer, as Iolana and Esther were ushered out a side corridor.
“What is this Ssaharranah business?” demanded Iolana.
“It means exiled.”
“I know what it means! No one has exiled you. You are Esther Staff! You have always been part of my family.”
“Is that what is says on my baptismal certificate?”