Thousands of miles to the west of Birmisia Colony, the royal yacht H.M.S. Sovereignty was steaming past the Mullien Islands. The sleek-looking modern vessel was on loan from His Majesty King Tybalt III to his youngest son and his wife. Prince Clitus, the Duke of Argower, and his wife Princess Terra, were sailing east to visit the royal colonies in Mallon, of which the princess was a native. In the unlikely event that the king been on such a trip, the small ship would have been accompanied by a flotilla, or more likely, the king would have been aboard a battleship, and Sovereignty would have been left at home. As it was, only a destroyer, H.M.S. Fearless, accompanied the yacht.
His Royal Highness Clitus, the Duke of Argower, looked at himself in the mirror. He had grown up wearing uniforms of the various branches of the royal military, but he had happily set them aside after his wedding a year and a half earlier. His father had given him a duchy as a wedding present, and there was apparently less need of a duke to be on constant parade than a prince. Clitus didn’t miss the stiff uniform tunics. Even now, aboard ship, he was able to move and breathe in the much less stiff number four uniform.
He stepped away from the mirror and out of the stateroom. Though his wife had slept with him, he hadn’t seen her since getting up. He hoped she was at breakfast. He was famished. Taking the stairs up the dining room, he found the table set and servants waiting, but no one seated.
“Have you seen the duchess this morning?” he asked Clark, one of the servers.
“I believe she’s on the aft deck, Your Highness.”
Clitus made his way through the room and out the sliding door that faced aft. This put him on the balcony overlooking the deck, where he saw his wife and two of his body men.
Sergeant Ryan Stigby of Mernham Yard had been the police sergeant assigned to protect Clitus for almost ten years. He had proven time and again his willingness to lay down his life for his charge. The other man was Bob. For lack of a better term, Bob was Clitus’s fixer. It was he who made embarrassing or difficult situations go away—sometimes by utilizing money, sometimes threats, sometimes God-only-knew-what. Bob had been with Clitus longer than Stigby, and unlike almost every man in the Kingdom, he went by his Kafirite name rather than his surname. Clitus would have bet that even Stigby didn’t know Bob’s last name. Clitus knew it. It was Fitzroy. Bob was the grandson of the bastard son of Clitus’s great-grandfather King Tybalt I. The two of them were fourth cousins.
Just then, Stigby threw something toward a post that had been erected at the very stern of the vessel. When it hit, Clitus could see that it was a large knife.
“Just what is going on here, gentlemen?” he called.
All three turned around, but only Stigby had the decency to look embarrassed. Bob was grinning widely, while the princess maintained her usual, rather blank resting face.
“Um, good morning, Your Royal Highness,” said the copper. “The duchess was just showing us… um, how to throw knives. You never know when that might come in handy.”
“Especially in the wilds of Mallon,” added Bob.
“Come up and have breakfast, Brownie,” the prince told his wife. “After that, you can teach all three of us.”
The three stepped into the doorway below Clitus’s feet. He turned and went back to the table, arriving just as the other three entered by way of the staircase. Though they waited for prince and the princess to sit first, the other two men followed suit. They had long been in the habit of sitting down to dine with Clitus in private.
“So, whose idea was knife fighting?”
“Knife throwing, Bully,” said the duchess, the former Lady Terra Posthuma Korlann Dechantagne, using her pet name for him. “I’m still working to master knife fighting.”
He chuckled but noted that she kept a straight face.
The duchess picked up a plate of basted eggs, taking one for herself, and then passing it on to Bob. Clitus followed suit with the bacon. Terra had insisted that the food be set on the table for them to serve themselves, rather than having the servers constantly buzzing around. The prince thought it rather a waste of time, but acceded to her wishes, as he did in almost everything.
“Why didn’t you wake me up, Brownie?” he asked, after scraping a large serving of hash brown potatoes onto his plate.
“I wanted you to sleep in today,” she said. “We have an exciting day ahead of us.”
“We do? I was unaware of anything very different from every other day since we left Enclep.”
“We are stopping at Terra Island.”
“We’re only stopping to take on water.”
“We shall see,” she replied.
“Besides, the island has no official name, and since we didn’t discover it, we don’t get to name it.”
“Ships have been stopping here for years,” she said. “Obviously, it was awaiting an appropriate name.”
Stigby changed the subject to Mallontah, or tried to, but none of the others wanted to think about it yet. It was weeks away, and it sounded unpleasant.
When they had all finished, they returned to the aft deck, where Terra continued her tutoring of knife throwing technique, adding Clitus as a pupil.
“There are several things to keep in mind when throwing a knife,” she said. “The heavier part of the knife should be thrown first. If you are throwing one with a heavy blade, hold it by the handle. Likewise, if your knife is handle-heavy, hold it by the blade with a pinch-finger grip. Mine are heavier of blade, so you may hold them by the handle. Grip them as you would a hammer.”