As I had traveled down to the capital, I was convinced that I would find no worthy lady of the court. I had met their breed before. They seemed to be of an entirely different species. How could a man and a woman get along when even her beauty was not enough of a distraction?
I no longer thought that, though. There was a lady worthy of my attention. Not only was she beautiful, but the mystery surrounding her identity intrigued me. She was introduced as Olivia St. James, but I clearly overheard her being called Eliza by one of the other ladies of the court. It would probably turn out to be nothing, but just thinking about her made me smile; therefore, learning more about her, including what this other name was all about, had become a new priority.
Though I didn't have a great desire to enter the conflict brewing in the south, I was glad that there were other affairs that I could dwell upon as well. For that reason, I offered my services to the local captain of the army. He assigned me an attendant to coach me on what was expected of an officer of the army. Royality bought many things, including a ticket away from the front line.
"I was told you have an excellent memory," I told the young attendant, whose name was Hiram.
"Yes, sir," Hiram said, nodding. "Anything that happens in this kingdom does not escape my recollection."
"Good," I replied. "Then, I will test it if you don't mind." He gestured for me to continue, a satisfied grin on his face.
"Do you know of any ladies of the court whose first or middle name is Eliza?"
HIram thought for a moment as he stroked his chin. Finally, he answered, "None that I can think of. Not in our generation or the older generation." He paused. "There was, of course, Queen Eliza, but that was more than a hundred years ago. The name was slightly more common then. And, even then, it was more of an Iberan tradition. Eliza was our last Iberan queen as you may recall."
"Iberan, you say," I remarked half to myself. When Hiram asked where I had heard the name, I replied, "I heard the name among the ladies of the court." I didn't want Hiram to get suspicious, so I quickly added, "It very well could have been referring to the past. I forgot about the Iberan connection."
"Very good, sir," Hiram said, obviously recognizing the end of my inquiry.
For the rest of the day, I dwelled on what Hiram had told me. Eliza was an Iberan name. Why would a lady of the court be called Eliza? Though there were still many connections to our strained brothers in the south, naming one's child after the enemy was not one of them.
Of course, the name could simply have been a jest, a joke to poke fun at Ibera. When I thought of that, my tensions eased somewhat. I decided that I was making something out of nothing. Surely no one from Ibera would be present in the royal court of Handrin. The thought was prepostorous.
I had almost forgotten about my little mental delimma until I got a visit from Rebecca Mays, the last lady of the court that I wanted to spend time with. I humored her, though.
"Dear James," she greeted with an over done smile. "How are you doing today?"
"Quite well," I replied with a bow. "And yourself, Ms. Mays?"
"Do call me Rebecca," she said. "I call you James because I want to be your friend. I want us to be close."
I tried to steer her away from my attention. "Surely the ladies of the court fill your attention especially since there are some new ones to get to know."
"Oh, yes," Rebecca stated, her smile completely gone, "Alexandra is nice and all. I think we will get along just dandy. That Olivia, though." Her expression went to disgust. "She's a funny one, don't you think?"
"I wouldn't have an opinion," I lied. "I barely spent any time with her at all."
"Anyway," Rebecca said, waving her arms to and fro, "enough about them. When can we spend some time together?"
I tried to stall. "I am helping the army out now, so my time is limited." When her expression went sad, I added, "Perhaps you could throw another event. I dare not refuse one of those."
Her shrug told me what she thought of my suggestion. Still, she said, "I will do that."
Rebecca's mention of Olivia got me thinking about her again. There was no way that I was going to get certain thoughts out of my head unless I learned the truth. I had to inquire where Olivia St. James was residing, but that was an easy task. The hard one seemed to be knocking on the door. A full ten minutes went by with me sitting in my carriage, rehersing what I was going to say.
Eventually, I worked out most of the butterflies in my stomach and walked up the steps to the front door. After knocking, an older lady answered, "Good day, sir. What can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if Ms. Olivia was available." I was certain that my request did not sit well with her, but she maintained composure.
"But, of course," she replied graciously. "Would you please come in?" She directed me to a small room just off the foyer. She excused herself to go fetch Olivia.
A bookcase full of books lined one wall and a divan sat opposite. At first I stood there. Then, I sat. That seemed uncomfortable, so I stood again.
Olivia entered a few moments later, my stomach by this point doing backflips. We greeted each other with a bow and a curtsey.
"I'm so glad I found you at home today," I remarked.
"It is nice to see you again, James," she said, adding my name with what looked like little effort.
"I want to get to know you a little more," I continued. I took a deep breath and then added, "There was just something that I had to ask you first. I couldn't get this prepostorous thought out of my head. It was going to bug me the rest of year, and I just couldn't have that."
"What is it, dear James?" she asked, placing a tentative hand on my shoulder.
With as much a comical tone that I could muster, I brought up the subject of her other name by asking, "Is there any chance you are from Ibera?"