The Duke and Duchess of Argower breakfasted on the deck of H.M.S. Sovereignty. They had spent the past several nights aboard the docked ship, after having stayed only one at the Portnoy Hotel. Although it was the finest such establishment in St. Ulixes, it was far below acceptable standards, according to Princess Terra. Prince Clitus would probably have endured it had he been traveling alone, but his pregnant wife’s comfort was uppermost in his mind.
“So, what are you about today, Brownie,” he asked her, aware that for the first time since they had arrived, they had a day free of ceremonial duties.
“After breakfast, I’m going to a dress fitting,” she said. “In the early afternoon, I have several telephone calls scheduled, so I will be stopping at the telephone station. I may do a bit of shopping while I’m there. I understand that it’s not far from the market square.”
“Another dress fitting? It seems to me you’ve had at least one dress fitting every day we’ve been in Mallontah.”
“You did promise me a thousand dresses, Bully.”
“I was using hyperbole,” he said. “I didn’t expect you to actually want one thousand new dresses.”
“Well, as it turns out, I’m not buying a thousand,” she said, picking up a slice of bacon. “I do think I shall end up with twenty or so.”
“Well, I suppose that’s all right. I don’t know about you going to the local market though. That might not be safe.”
“Did you want to criticize every bit of today’s itinerary?” she asked, frowning. “Do you have something against telephone calls too?”
“Of course not.” He paused to search for a slice of white pudding, but the last two were on his wife’s plate. “I’m just concerned about my wife and unborn child. That is a man’s prerogative. If you want to go to the market, then go. Just make sure to take adequate security with you.”
“I’m taking Ryan with me,” she said.
“Ryan? Ryan Stigby, do you mean?”
“Do you know any other Ryans?”
“Yes,” he replied. “I probably know eight or nine men called Ryan.”
“Are any of them here with us?”
“Well, no,” he admitted. “It’s just that it’s not appropriate to call him by his first name.”
“We call Bob by his first name,” she pointed out.
“I’d prefer not to be dragged into your arguments, Your Highness,” said Bob, spreading lemon curd on his toast.
“Where is Stigby anyway?” wondered Clitus.
“I believe he left the ship to visit the post office,” said Bob. “He wanted to send a package to Mrs. Stigby.”
“His mother. Lovely woman. Makes a magnificent fish pie.”
“So, what do you have planned for the day, Bully?” asked Terra.
“I’m going to stay onboard and enjoy the peace and quiet this morning, but I have a hunting date with Lord Erstwhile tonight. We’re having dinner together first. Depending on how late we return, I’ll either come back here or spend the night at his house. In any case, I have to be ready for the meeting with the aborigine leaders tomorrow morning.”
“It seems that you need more security than I do,” said Terra. “The animals in Mallon are far more dangerous than any you might encounter in Sumir. I imagine the most dangerous thing you could run across in Brechalon is a fox, whereas we have tyrannosauruses in Birmisia. I understand they don’t live here in Mallontah, which is the only reason I shall agree to let you go without me.”
“What will people think if they find out that I need my pregnant wife to watch over my safety?”
“If they know your wife, they’ll think you’re pretty smart,” said Bob. “Don’t worry, Your Highness. I’ll be with him the whole time, and we’ll have a couple of savvy, well-armed sailors with us on the hunt.”
“Keep an eye on him,” said Terra. “You know how he is. He can’t help being heroic in the face of danger. Hold him down if you must. I don’t much care if people I don’t know are eaten, but I do care about him, and you too.”
“What did I miss?” asked Stigby, climbing up from the lower deck and sitting in the only empty chair.
“Well, you missed all the food, for one thing,” said Clitus. “You also missed my wife’s instructions to Bob, but you are just in time for mine to you. Keep an eye on the Princess today, particularly in the marketplace. You know how she is. She can’t help being impetuous. Hold her down, gently, if you must. Other people may be trampled, shot, kidnapped, beaten, or robbed, but bring her back safely.”
Terra gave her husband a bland look.
“People shop in the marketplace every day. I doubt there will be much excitement to tell about.”
“Good to hear,” said Clitus.