Alexander had just burned the letter to Zahra when one of the queen's attendants rapped at the door. Annoyed at the interruption, Alexander called out a terse "Come in" and inwardly groaned when he saw who the attendant was from.

"Your Majesty," the attendant said with a low bow.

"Yes, well, get on with it," Alexander said, more gruffly than intended. He gave one last look at the burning paper before shifting his thoughts to the current situation.

"Her Royal Highness, the Queen, inquires as to the expedience of her request," the attendant droned.

Ah, yes. Alexander had not yet seen to the command his mother had spoken concerning Adrian. "Well, tell her Royal Highness, the Queen, that I have no mind to heed her words."

A look of fright flashed in the young boy's eyes, and he lowered his head. "But - " he began, then shook his head. "Alright, Sire."

"But what?"

Still shaking his head, the attendant turned to leave. Wondering what the boy had been about to say, Alexander gestured for the boy to stay. "What were you going to say?"

"It wouldn't be right to say," the attendant shrugged.

"Nevertheless, I wish to hear what you want to say." Alexander raised his eyebrows. "Come, now. Out with it."

"Permission to speak freely, Sire."

"You have my permission."

"It's just that..." the boy's voice trailed off, and his eyes darted over to the crackling fire. "It's just that your mother, bless her soul, will be very angry with your answer, and she'll take it out on me. I don't want another flogging, Sire." 

"She would flog you for such a thing?" Alexander asked, completely incredulous.

"She gets quite angry when any of her attendants tell her bad news. She fails to see that we only deliver the news and thus oughtn't be the objects of her frustrations."

"I see." 

There was a long silence. Finally, the boy shrugged again. "I ought to be getting back, Sire."

"What's your name?"

The boy looked rather shocked. "Me, Sire?" he asked, face the picture of confusion.

"Yes, you." How is it that I don't even know the names of those who serve me? 

"Ivan, Your Highness." And then, as though taking advantage of the opportunity while he had it, Ivan added, "And my sister's name is Lillie. We're twins, you see. We work here as sort of a replacement of my mother when she died." Then, as though realizing he'd said more than the Prince had asked for, Ivan shrugged and looked away.

"How old are you and Lillie?" Alexander asked. Far too young to be here; that's for sure.

"We're nigh eleven, Sire."

"That's too young to be ordered about and beaten," Alexander said, more to himself than to Ivan. He met the boy's eyes. "That'll be all."

But when the boy left, all Alexander could think was, Have I always been too selfish to know those who spend their days making sure the castle duties are performed? He shook his head self-deprecatingly. There is much I still must learn.

The End

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