“Let’s say that Korveil offers to open its border to us in trade. What factors should you consider before responding?”
Theodore hauled himself onto the windowsill, grateful beyond words to have survived the climb. On the other side was a simple bedroom. It reminded him of the one he saw inside Duke Ambergrail’s dream. There was a bed, a wardrobe, and textbooks scattered everywhere but not much else. Protective runes lit up the interior stone walls. A bored and bearded guard kept watch at the only door, while a tutor in bright red robes and hooped earrings lectured. Prince Perceval sat at a desk in the center, taking notes and fighting off a wandering gaze.
“Korveil is a mineral rich country,” Perceval said. “Our industrial productivity would greatly increase if we had access to their raw materials, but I’d be very leery of agreeing without a major commitment from them to keep the trade roads safe. Historically, they’ve disavowed responsibility for dealing with highway bandits within their borders.”
“Wrong!” The tutor said. Apparently, she was looking for a much more specific answer. “If you’d read the chapter instead of daydreaming, you’d know you need to engage in circumspection. Korveil knows what we want and would only offer this to squeeze concessions from us. No doubt they’d want reparations for their failed military campaigns against us!”
Under normal circumstances, Theodore would’ve been interested in hearing more of this lecture. However, he was pressed for time. He scaled the desk leg, trying not to be seen. There had to be a way to talk to the prince without drawing attention from the teacher or guard. He skittered between cover, from behind trenches of textbooks and stationary, and dipped is foreleg into an ink well. From there he rushed onto the prince’s notepaper, trying not to drip, and scrawled out the words ‘THIS ANT IS THEO’ as legibly as he could.
When Perceval looked down, he did a double take. His eyes darted. The tutor was occupied with a condescending review of the fundamentals of foreign policy. The prince lowered his sleeve to the desk and gestured for Theodore to enter with his finger.
“Professor,” He said. “I need to use the water closet.”
“What?” She said. “You just went!”
“I suppose I wasn’t done.”
She grumbled. “Then make sure you are this time. I’m not paid by the hour.”
The royal guard undid locks and chains on the door and escorted the prince out, joined by another keeping watch on the other side of the door. Theodore dangled inside the sleeve until Perceval shut the bathroom door. He ran the faucet to mask their voices.
“Theo?” He said. “Is that really you?”
Theodore crawled up to his shoulder. “Yes. This is Oboe’s magic. It’s the only way I could contrive to speak to you.”
“I’m not surprised.” He slouched onto the toilet. “Did you get my letters?”
“No. What letters?” Theodore thought. “I was forced to leave the cottage.”
“That’s what I was worried about.” Perceval groaned. “Conrad told father you’re not to be trusted. I stood up to them, and now they both think I’m an idiot! Father put me back on heavy watch, and now I have no idea what’s going on.”
“Things are bad in the Circle. We’re a breath from things turning violent, but the fairy council won’t talk to anyone who’s not the Ranger Deputy. I need the King to give me my title back.”
The prince glowered. “Father’s not going to help us. I could help you meet with him, but I think he’ll only listen to Conrad now.” He leaned forward. “If I could leave the castle, I could pull some strings, but I can’t. I’m stuck here.”
“Is there anything you can do from here?” Theodore said.
The gears were turning. “I can sign a new royal appointment. But I won’t be there to handwave procedure. You’ll have to follow all the rules to become a knight proper.”
Theodore felt fresh hope spring up. Protocol was something he could deal with. “Conrad had me fired because I was appointed without the qualifications. If I can earn an Advanced Knight Training certificate, I can get my title back.”
“Yes!” Perceval stood up. He froze, realizing he had said that too loud. He pulled the flush chain to maintain the illusion. “I can authorize you to take that test. Where can I send the forms?”
“I have a room at the Red Orchard inn on the trade road.”
The prince shuffled around the bathroom, wagging his arms with anxiety. “This might only buy you time. Conrad said he has a plan to get rid of you.”
“I don’t care,” Theodore said. “I need to fix this whether he likes it or not.”
The guards knocked on the door. “Are you done in there?! Hurry up!”
The prince ignored them. He straightened his tunic and took a deep breath. “If you need to reach me, sign your letters as Prince Horace. He’s very boring, and they won’t bother reading my mail from him.”
“That’s a good plan,” Theodore said.
The prince hovered at the door. Something was stopping him.
“Is Oboe okay?”
“She’s fine,” Theodore said, but realized that wasn’t really true. “This has all been very hard on her.”
He looked at the floor. “A lot of what happened to you is my fault,” he said. “You deserve better. If things get bad, if things really go to pieces, I want you to take care of her. I want you to promise you’ll go somewhere safe where you can be happy no matter what happens here.”
“It’s not going to come to that,” Theodore said.
The prince opened the door, and Theodore hid in the folds of his clothes. He left Perceval to write and mail the authorizations that would be key to his success. Crawling out along the castle walls, Theodore looked to find Oboe again.