“I must protest this avenue of your investigation,” Arnald complained.
“If you are frightened, by all means, I will meet up with you later.” Prince was vastly amused by Arnald’s discomfort, and he took great delight in letting him see so.
“I am not afraid,” he growled.
But Arnald hesitated at the door of the chamber where Prince heard his mother conspiring with the mysterious Faustine. Prince sauntered in, using the taper he held to light two of the four sconces on the wall. “Much better,” he said, glancing around.
The chamber was not large by any means. A chair with worn fabric in one corner and beside it a heavy square table. There were no candles or other objects to identify the recent occupants but for the unsettled grime. Only the damning evidence of Maman’s voice in his head from the prior day.
Waves crashing below sounded through a window that was much too high to peer from.
“What are you looking for, Cousin?” Arnald’s barely concealed sarcasm rebounded.
“Ah, I see you recovered from your weak constitution” Prince said, dryly.
“Weak constitution.” Arnald’s indignation had Prince unable to hold back a burst of laughter. Arnald’s eyes focused on something behind Prince, standing the hair at his nape on end. “Bonjour, Madame,” Arnald smiled.
Prince spun quickly shocked to see his mother.
“Oh, dear,” she muttered softly.
She cleared her throat with a delicate cough. “It appears your maman failed to mention a twin, I see.”
“Twin?” he choked out. “But—” Of course, she was a twin. At first glance, they looked exactly the same but for the elaborately fashioned hair built high on her stately head. They had the same dark eyes and upturned noses and slight builds. He would hazard the only discernible difference, upon closer examination, was a tiny mole on his aunt’s left cheek. Though his mother would not have been caught dead in a frock of such frilly, pink nonsense. He leaned closer. “Are those diamonds, threaded throughout your gown, Madame?”
“Ahem…” She inclined her head, identically to his mother. “Mais oui, mon cher. I must say,” she said. “You are the spitting image of your papa. I am quite proud of you.”
“Are you unwell, dear?” She furrowed her brows. “You keep repeating me. It could be a sickness of the mind, you know.”
Prince could hardly comprehend the thread of conversation at the sight of an aunt long thought dead. It was no secret Arnald was his cousin, but how could Maman keep a twin sister a secret. And why? Oh, were they past time for a chat.
“Maman, I believe you have left my cousin thoroughly speechless. A remarkable feat, actually.” Arnald’s humor had bounded back in full force.
Prince recovered himself with an effort and narrowed his eyes on the tiny woman before him. “Does my maman know you are about, Tante?”
“Oui,” she responded with a wave of her hand. “We are quite close, you know.”
Close? He strived for a measured breath. It was obvious he needed to keep his wits about him. This, of course, had to be the mysterious Faustine. His mother’s sister. His aunt.
“So you and my darling, conniving, Maman have been manipulating the recent events of my life,” he said. The more he considered “recent” events, the more perfect sense it made, and the more incensed he became. He struggled for composure, however. “I wonder what conclusions you have come to, Tante. I would be most curious to hear.”
“Oh, my. I do believe you are angry, oui?” she twittered.
“Now, my dear, you would not dare to threaten such a dainty creature? A woman this small in stature, mind, could not hope to create so much as a bustle of concern.” Arnald laughed. He stood with folded arms across his chest and shoulder against the doorframe. His lofty wit was annoying and did not help in restoring Prince’s usually collected attitude.
“Humph. You are telling me, because she is so small, she could not cause havoc?” Prince dare not take his eyes from the woman before him who begun a pace about the room. He had the distinct feeling she might evaporate into thin air. A handy trick these women were able to execute at the snap of a finger.
“That is neither here nor there, Nephew.”
Prince drew his fiercest scowl. “You dare to taunt me, Madame? I am the future king.”
“And I am your elder, you shall address me with respect.” She actually snapped at him. “Now, dear, you must let your confidence guide you.”
Confidence? Guide him? “I feel the most sudden urge to meet with my own maman,” he muttered.
“Oui, oui. I suppose you must.” She plopped down in the one chair, planted an elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm.
Arnald moved to her and went down on bended knee. He clasped her small hand in his. “What is it, Maman? You are distressed, non?”
“Dear boy.” A tender touch to his head had Prince compelled to look away. “Naught that with which you could help.” She pulled her hand away. “Be gone, both of you. We shall speak soon enough.”