I spent the rest of my day searching for any information on Angel Hurst. It was surprisingly difficult. None of Imara's friends in the servants quarters seemed to be able, or want to talk about him.
'I'm sorry Alex,' Imara insisted, 'they just don't seem that interested in him.' I paced up and down the room, thinking as hard as I could.
'But that doesn't make sense!' I turned to Imara. 'You said the servants were always talking about the people at court, who they were and what they were doing.' My tone was almost accusing her of not trying hard enough. After the ease with which I had found my first piece of information, the wall I was hitting now was a big frustration.
'Well he obviously isn't just any old member of the court then,' Imara retaliated, her voice as strong as mine.
'Alright then, I believe you,' I submitted, 'but just keep your voice down. We don't want people thinking I have problems with my servants.' Imara snorted but complied, lowering her voice as we thought about how we could find information on our mystery man.
'I don't think I can get anything at all from the servants,' Imara said matter-of-factly, 'could you get any further with some of your friends?' I thought about it, screwing my face up in concentration.
'It would be hard,' I thought out loud, 'I can't arouse any suspicion that I'm not from Handrin and if Mr Hurst isn't spoken about by the servants then he must be in a position of importance, which I, as a good Handrin citizen, should know.'
I weighed up the options in my head. On the one hand I could blow my cover, revealing myself as a spy and sentencing myself to death. On the other hand, I could gain a valuable contact from whom I could extract vital information. I thought about my brother, Sebastian, who I hadn't seen in months. What would he want me to do?
I thought of him, fighting, possibly dying. I hadn't received a letter from him since he left. Did this mean he was dead? The mental image of my brother, his blonde hair covered with mud, his eyes closed and his body soaked in blood, made my decision for me.
'Oh, Alexandra! What a pleasant surprise.' I crossed the highly decorated front room and clasped the hands that reached out to me.
'I so enjoyed your party last night, I felt I had to call to thank you for inviting me.' I smiled graciously and taking the seat Rebecca offered me. 'I do hope you'll be holding another party soon,' I leaned in secretively, 'I am sure yours are the best in the Kingdom.'
'Apart from her Majesties?' Rebecca was clearly pretending at modesty when I could clearly see she was revelling in my compliments.
'Of course.' Rebecca called for tea and while we sipped it I caught up on the gossip I had missed last night, stowing away a few bits of information I thought useful.
'But you were fortunate,' Rebecca gushed enthusiastically. 'Fancy being asked to dance by Angel Hurst!' This was where my improvisation skills would be severely tested.
'I know! I felt so honoured that he chose me when there were so many other beautiful girls in the room.' I let Rebecca think I meant her, it wouldn't hurt me for her ego to be over inflated.
'I would watch where you tread with that one,' Rebecca warned, leaning in so her lips were next to my ear. 'Some say that the Queen admires him more than as her favoured politician.' Some thing caught in my throat and I wasn't sure I would be able to react in time so Rebecca could see the scandalised look on my face.
'But, the King,' I managed to force through my pursed lips. Rebecca didn't seem to notice that I wasn't reacting the way I was meant to, my face turning hard as stone and an incomprehensible anger boiling up inside me. I felt like I had been slapped in the face.
'Oh, I'd forgotten you haven't been at court much. The royal relationship has been tenuous for a while, it's not really surprising that the Queen turned her attentions elsewhere.'
'You talk about this like it's acceptable,' I exclaimed. Rebecca's face contorted into a patronising smile.
'My dear Alexandra. I didn't know you were such an innocent. The King and Queen didn't marry for love, it was a political match, and you've seen what the King looks like.' She raised her eyebrows to emphasise the point. 'He's hardly good-looking anymore and besides, most of the rumours aren't true.'
'That's not an excuse,' I interrupted. 'And why would people talk about the Queen like that when the rumours are completely false?'
'Well you must know that the Queen's out of favour with the court at the moment,' Rebecca looked at me almost as if I were an idiot, and when I failed to respond she continued. 'She isn't the most popular person in the country at the moment and there are plenty of people who would like to see her removed from her position of power. That's why there are so many rumours.'
Rebecca was clearly tiring of the subject as she quickly moved on to something else and when I attempted to bring the conversation back round to the Queen she just sighed loudly and asked if I had to be so dull. I didn't want to push the point or I could lose her as a contact. I decided to ask more questions at the ball later on.
After a few more cups of tea I got to my feet and prepared to leave. 'Thank you for the tea.'
'It was my pleasure,' said Rebecca in her overly sweet voice before taking my hands and kissing both my cheeks. 'I hope to see you again soon.'
'Of course,' I replied cooly before turning around to leave. I'd got what I came for, I knew who my mystery man was but maybe he wasn't the man I had hoped.