I had never really considered my position in relation to royalty. I suppose, nominally, I was a loyal subject of Queen Victoria, but beyond the necessity of proposing the toast in the wardroom, I never considered it further, not imagining I would ever have cause to deal with her or any other royal personage. Mother and Father once attended a charity ball at which Princess Louise was supposed to be present, but I don’t think they actually met her. That was probably just as well, for my dear mother had views. Not that she would ever have expressed them, oh no, she was far too polite for that, but underneath, I feel she had more than a touch of the republican in her. I can’t say that I disagreed. She raised me to treat everybody with the same respect, regardless of rank, so the concept that somebody was due more, or less, respect just because of who their parents were became something abhorrent to me. That is one of the reasons I enjoyed my service on the Odiham Castle, for the captain treated everyone as equals, save where necessary for the chain of command. My indifference to royalty in real life was at odds with my literary upbringing. From the fairy stories my mother read to me, with their evil queens and blundering kings, through the reams of Arthurian romances that I consumed as fast as I was able to turn the pages, to Spenser’s Fairie Queen, my reading matter was full of royal families of one sort or another. Wisely, my mother always taught me to keep the worlds of reality and fantasy separate in my minds, and so I did. Until 1885, werewolves, vampires, goblins, dwarves and faery queens belonged in the pages of books, so far as I was concerned. How little I knew.
And now, by chance and circumstance, I find myself the acquaintance of a king, again. I have yet to determine the extent or nature of his realm, other than it probably includes this island and maybe some close by. I try not to make assumptions. The last king I served owned the nightclub where I worked as manager, and was king of the Unseelie Court, so what this king rules is anybody’s guess.
I hadn’t set out to find a king. I’m not sure what my intentions were, or even if I had any, save getting to know the place. Thus it was I found myself in the tavern in the courtyard. The serving girl I had seen before, fishing down by the docks, but the other was a stranger. After ordering a drink, I remarked upon the fishing and gathered that she had not been successful. I told her I had never found any interest in fishing, preferring my fish to appear in slices with herbs and butter. She seemed to take this as a suggestion for a future menu, but I assured her that it wasn’t necessary. I did not venture to explain why, as I do not yet know how my kind are received here. She did not pursue the matter, which is fortunate. The stranger was a young man bearing a rather large sword. He did not talk much, but when he did, his manner was somewhat strange, declaring that he was not yet comfortable around living creatures. Quite what that meant, I did not have the chance to discover as he left soon after. After he had gone, in lieu of herb buttered fish, she offered half a loaf of bread. Again, I declined without the need to explain.
The serving girl told me her name was something like Evean. From the way she said it, I suspect it is one of those Gaelic names and therefore spelt with a few more vowels and a “bh” in the middle. She expressed the hope that the departing stranger might go chop some wood for her, as she felt she lacked the strength. From earlier things I had overheard, I suspected she was happy to let people do chores for food and drink. I offered to do some chopping if she needed it, telling her that I too lacked funds and was desirous of earning my crust. I asked if anybody needed the services an accountant or club manager. She appeared to be a little uncertain about the process of accounting but seemed very keen that I should offer my services to the king, whose seneschal – yes, that was the word she used – performed those duties for the royal household, but was somewhat disliked by the queen. I said I would be delighted to discuss such possibilities with him.
As it happened, the king turned up soon after. He had a shopping list for Eve, apparently for his child’s birthday party the following evening. After some discussion of my debt to him and my training, he suggested I might be able to work off some of it by assisting this Lord Niles, the aforementioned seneschal with disbursing the funds. I must confess I was not really paying attention because that woman from the previous day appeared again – the one who so closely resembles my dearest Anna. As before, she paid me no heed, being far more interested in the party shopping list. At this point, another woman appeared at the far end of the bar, immediately grabbing the king’s attention. Suddenly, he was at the end of the bar, pinning her to it. I could not tell what was going on, but it did not appear to be something I would want to get involved with. I took this as my cue to depart, saying I would discuss the matter of work later.