My mind was reeling from the news I had just heard. I was not aware that my father had any siblings at all, much less that his younger sister was the Queen of Handrin. Why, despite all the lessons I had had on history, and despite all the times I had been known to lament my lack of family, had my father never informed me of this fact.
And yet, perhaps there was a sense to what Moira had said earlier. What would have been the point of my knowing this news? Handrin and Ibera, while only recently openly at war, had been hostile to one another all through my childhood. So it is not like I could have had any contact with my aunt, that we could have met in any manner. And my father was not to know that I would do something as foolish as agreeing to spy on this side of the border. In fact, it was the kind of thing he would have explicitly forbidden me from doing, a fact I had known when I had embarked on this quest. So surely he had no reason for ever believing that this aunt of mine and myself would ever meet face to face.
And yet, despite having been presented to the Queen, and the King, on my introduction to the court, now, knowing her relation to me, I struggled to remember her face, much less make connections between her appearance and mine. For surely there would be some resemblance, if we were related in such a way.
I could sense Moira behind me, as if she expected me to give some kind of outburst, perhaps rage at the fact that I had never been told such news, or to cry out in anger that it was a lie. But I knew I could not do that. For one thing, I was filled with a sudden urge to meet this woman whom I was related to, and acting the part of a spoiled child would only serve in delaying such a meeting. Instead I lifted my eyes to the King,determined that they and my voice remain calm.
"I thank you for telling me this news," I said, before picking up my fork. "I suppose that would make you, by marriage, my uncle."
The king seemed to consider these words. "Indeed it would. I've never had a niece before. But then, I've had very little relations, especially of the young sort. I suppose my children should count in some way, but circumstances have ensured their contact has been denied to me." A look of sadness crossed his face briefly, before it was gone and I had to wonder if I had imagined it. "But don't think this changes things. You are still a prisoner, and I still need to consider just what I am going to do with you."
I nodded, accepting this fact. "And in the meantime I am to remain here, my skin turning pale from the lack of sunshine, and my body slowly wasting away with no chance to stretch my legs."
Pausing, the King tapped his fork against his plate for a second. "I suppose it is unkind to not allow you some form of exercise. And yet, I must balance it against the risk that you could escape. I will need to dwell on that matter, but perhaps I will have a solution when next we dine."
"And what of the Queen? If she really is my aunt, then I would like to meet her. Surely that would be allowed?" I asked, hoping I was not pushing matters too far.
Once again the King seemed to consider my words. "I dare say that even if I denied that request Marcia would have soon found a way to overcome it. She seems to delight in going against my orders. But she knows you are here, and so it should not be too long before curiosity at least draws her to you," he finally said, putting down his fork and standing. "I regret to say that it may be a number of days before I am able to dine with you again. A king's business is never done after all. But I shall return when I am able to, after all I should really get to know my niece," he said with a grin, before signalling to the servant who had entered the room with him. As the servant began to pack up the lunch dishes the King turned and exited the room, his bodyguard detaching himself from the shadows to follow after. Before too long I was left alone with Moira, who was eying me with a slightly nervous expression as I turned around to face her.
"Perhaps Moira we should have a little chat," I said, raising my eyebrows. "There seems to be so much I don't know, and my father did request I be schooled in history. And this is my own personal history after all. I think it's time you tell me of Marsha Frances, and how she came to be Marcia of Handrin."
Moira nodded, taking the seat the King had vacated, her hands clasped nervously in front of her. "Yes, I suppose there are things you should learn my dear. But there is very little I can tell you. I was not present for the marriage of Marsha Frances to King George, and nor can I tell you much of the courtship. And while I have a little knowledge of a young Marsha Frances now, I am not sure that knowledge would aid you now. Marcia Handrin, rumor has it, is a very different woman to the Marsha I once knew after all."
For some reason I had a sense that Moira was trying to keep something from me, that she knew more than she was implying. And yet I knew my maid. If she had kept quiet about the fact that I had an aunt who she, it seemed, had once served, much less who that aunt was, then what other secrets might she be hiding? And how would I ever be able to find out? For I was only just learning just how good a secret keeper my maid truly was.
"Well then Moira, I suppose we can begin with the young Marsha Frances then and see where we end up," I said, making myself comfortable in my chair.
A knock sounded at the door, interrupting any start to the story that Moira would have told, before it opened. A servant stepped into the gap, beckoning to Moira. With a look of apology to me she stood. As I watched the door close behind the servant and my maid I was left to wonder. Just what was it Moira knew about my mysterious aunt? And just where had she been summoned now?