“She and I do need to talk about the things going on in the kingdom, so it’s just as well,” I said.
“A working lunch?” Kennet wrinkled his nose. “That sounds terrible.”
“I enjoy the company of the Queen, and this may come as a shock to you, but I enjoy my job a great deal.”
Kennet put his hand over his heart in mock surprise. “I can hardly even fathom the idea.”
“I thought as much,” I replied with a laugh.
“There is some good news though,” Kennet said. “I get to escort you to the Queen’s tea room.”
“She has her own tea room?” I asked, following Kennet as he started to walk away.
“She’s the Queen. She has her own everything.”
“Do you think that’s why she was targeted?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know why anyone went after her. I know I just said she has everything, but in truth it all actually belongs to my brother. She just has access to it.”
That was essentially what Bayle had already told me. There wasn’t really any reason for anyone to go after Linnea, unless it was personal. But I’d been hoping that Kennet might be able to shed a different light on things.
“Do you share any of the Queen’s concerns?” I asked.
“You mean do I feel that someone is lurking around the corner waiting to nab me?” Kennet seemed to consider it, but when he looked down at me he was grinning. “How could I feel unsafe when I know I’ve got you here to protect me?”
“I’m here to protect the Queen.”
“Technically you’re here to help the royal family, which does include me.”
“You didn’t really answer my question though,” I said. “Do you think something is going on here?”
“I think that our guards have been horribly trained and commanded for years now,” Kennet said, and he seemed to be choosing his words with an unusual level of care. Normally, he’d say any little thing that flitted into his mind, but for once he appeared cautious.
“As a result of the guards’ ineptitude,” he went on, “it’s entirely plausible that something troublesome is afoot. But it would be near impossible to discern what is due to incompetence and what’s due to actual nefarious intentions.”
“Bayle told me your brother has been reluctant to make changes,” I said. “If the guard is awful, do you know why that is?”
“The exact machinations of my brother’s mind have always been a mystery to me,” Kennet said with a sigh. “I do know that during his coronation speech, he promised to continue our father’s reign, upholding everything that he’d put in place. But why the King refuses to change in the face of all the evidence telling him it’s necessary…” He trailed off.
He stopped and turned to me, his blue eyes softening. “You have to understand. Our father was a very difficult man, and Mikko got the brunt of Father’s … difficulty. Mikko never learned how to stand up for himself, and he’s uneasy about change or responsibility.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good combination in a King,” I pointed out.
“No, it doesn’t.” Kennet smiled bitterly for a moment, but it quickly fell away. “Anyway, it’s not my place to speak ill of the King—either my brother or my father.”
“Thank you for being so candid with me, my liege,” I said, since Kennet had been more honest with me about his family than many other royals I had encountered would be.
He stopped, turning to face me, so I did the same. “You know, you really don’t have to do all that. You can just call me Kennet. I feel like we are on a first-name basis.”
“That seems like a very dangerous territory to venture into,” I said. “You are the Prince. I am a tracker from a neighboring tribe. It would be very unwise for the two of us to mingle, which is why it is for the best that we don’t reschedule our lunch … meeting.”
“That hardly seems fair.” Kennet scoffed. “I see absolutely no reason the two of us can’t be friends.”
“There is that whole business where I could be jailed and you could be stripped of your title,” I reminded him. “That seems like a good reason.”
“It’s only if we procreate and dilute the bloodline that the offense is punishable by incarceration.” Kennet brushed it off, as though it weren’t a big thing. “There’s no law against us fraternizing.”
“Perhaps I don’t want to fraternize,” I countered.
“Are you asking me to procreate then?” Kennet asked with a wag of the eyebrow.
“I think it’s best if we stop this conversation, and I get to my lunch with Queen Linnea,” I said. “It’s never good to keep the Queen waiting.”
“Right you are.” Kennet smirked, but he started walking again.
“Thank you, Prince,” I said as I followed him.
“Anytime, tracker,” he replied.
Sunlight flooded the tea room. The outside wall was domed glass, starting in the middle of the ceiling and curving down until it met the floor at the surface of the lake. The windowed wall was divided into three pie-shaped panes of glass, separated by ornate golden sash bars.
Since it was on the main floor, it was one of the few rooms in the palace that let in the warm spring sun. It shimmered on the lake outside, casting shards of light through the tea room like a disco ball.
The walls had wainscoting halfway up, where it met wallpaper covered in pale blue roses and light green vines. A chaise sat against the wall with an antique coffee table surrounded by several tufted chairs.
In the center of the room was a round table, directly underneath an elegant gold chandelier that hung where the glass met the ceiling. Piles of fresh fruit, trays of pastries, and an array of tea bags were spread out on a lace tablecloth. Delicate saucers and cups were hand painted with roses of pink and blue.
Linnea sat at the table with a raspberry tart in her hand, smiling at me as I came in. In her knee-length azure sundress, she reminded me of a little girl playing tea party and pretending to be a princess. But of course, she wasn’t playing pretend—all of this was real life for her.
Kennet had dropped me off at the door, promising to see me later, and then left me alone with the Queen. Her personal guard—who should’ve been in the room with her, or at the very least standing at the door—was nowhere to be seen, and I would have to remember to make a note of that when I returned to Kasper. The King and Queen should never be left unguarded.