I was not sure what to think of the King. He was an intimidating man, his eyes seeming to silently put me in my place and remind that while I was a noblewoman, he was even higher than that, and should be respected at all times. At the moment I was staring at him, waiting for a response to my words, for any kind of response. I could tell Moira, who was positioned behind me, was getting increasingly nervous as well.
"I know who you are, of course, Eliza," the king finally began, his eyes appearing to desperately search mine, as if seeking the answer to a question I had no way of knowing. "And I know of your father, so I suppose I should expect such actions from a daughter of his. He was always a headstrong man, with a firm sense of what is right. He was at my wedding you know."
The king paused for a second as if to assess the impact of his words. I tried not to let any surprise show, my father had never spoken of being at the royal wedding. But then, I reasoned, as the wedding had been between an Iberan and the King, it seemed only logical that many of our noblemen and women would attend. And we had always been high in the ranks of privileged families.
Noticing my lack of emotion, the king continued. "But then, so many people were at my wedding of course. And like your father, so many seemed to disapprove of the match, even if they could see it's benefits. Your father did well on censoring that disapproval though, for the sake of a potential peace between our nations."
The king seemed to pause again, as if silently considering something. "Strange though, I don't recall his bringing a wife to the wedding, much less a woman he was courting. In fact, I can't recall hearing that he had taken a wife at all." Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he leaned across the table towards me, his very presence seeming to bridge the gap between us. "How old are you child?" he asked, a level of aggressiveness in his voice that had not previously been there.
"Uh.." I began, surprised by the change in attitude. As I hesitated, the king seemed to loom even closer.
"It's not a hard question child and shouldn't require thinking. What is your age?" he asked, his eyes searching, constantly searching.
"She is a mere 16 sire," piped up Moira, causing the King's attention to turn to hers.
"16 you say?" he asked again, the aggression he had just shown seeming to melt out of his appearance. For a moment he looked merely confused, before he regained his composure and masked his emotions, but not before a flicker of recognition passed over his face. "And have you served the Frances family long maid?" he asked Moira.
"For many years. My family has traditionally served the ladies of the house, until they find a suitable match to marry," Moira explained, holding the King's gaze. Propriety called that she be the one to look away, and yet it was the King who broke the gaze first, turning his attention back to me.
"You must forgive me my outburst, child. For a second I thought.... but I suppose that is not important now. Let's just say that I suffered a lapse in judgement." Suddenly he stood, making a signal to the manservant who immediately began packing away the king's dishes. From the shadows appeared the other man who had entered when the King had, a man I now assumed was most probably his bodyguard. "And you must forgive me for not staying to finish the meal. A King's duty is never done. But do enjoy the food, and just knock on the door when you are finished if you require anything else. We want your stay here to be as pleasant as possible."
"Even though I am a prisoner?" I asked.
A smile seemed to cross the King's at my words. "Yes, even then." He turned at that moment, heading towards the door which opened before he reached it. Before long he was gone, leaving just Moira and I in the room alone.
Twisting in my seat, I turned to face Moira, gesturing for her to take the King's vacated chair. "Now my dear Maid, please explain to me why it was so important that I appear a year younger than I am?" I asked her, ensuring my voice remained calm, as if we were having just a simple conversation, not sure what the guards on the other side of the door could pick up.
Moira glanced at the door, as if thinking the same thing, before her eyes returned to mine. "It was for your own safety my dear," she revealed.
"But how is it for my own safety? What difference does a year make?" I asked.
Moira seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if searching for the right words. I briefly wondered at just what she was keeping from me, and why. "A year can make all the difference. The king is more likely to underestimate you, and be more lenient in terms of punishment and interrogation if he assumes you are younger than you are. And you have always appeared to be on the younger side, so it is a believable lie. Perhaps I could have gone for 2 years. But this way you are a little safer. Being a noblewoman can only protect you so much, and we both know that it is only a few short weeks until your next day of birth, where you will turn 18. Yes, it is better for you to be said to be younger."
While Moira's explanation did make some sense, I could still tell that something was not quite right with the explanation. There had to be some other reason for Moira's lie. But I had little opportunity to question her as she stood and began inspecting the room, her appearance showing that she thought the matter was finished. I sighed softly and turned back to my food, resolving to find another way to gain my answers.