After Lord McCallis and his Lady, my clerk should have introduced the children from eldest to youngest for their presentation to the queen. However, the three-year-old shrieked when they tried to take her from her mother's side. I gave Prentis a sign, and he introduced the five girls from youngest to oldest: Marigold, Poppy, Daisy, Lily, and Rose.
Of course, there had to be a rose in such a bouquet, but I had not seen her behind her massive -- that is to say rather wide and plump -- parents. The rest of the little flowers had been pale, pasty blond creatures who had probably never seen the sun.
Rose stood tall, thin -- thorny, too, from the defiant look on her face -- and with a bloom of fiery red hair that made her look more like her late grandfather than the rest of her immediate family.
"Rose," I said. I had not said the names of any of the others, not even the Lord and Lady.
"Your Highness." She executed another perfect curtsy.
I did not glance at my daughter, but she was there at the edge of my vision, watching the girl. They were about the same age, and both in that awkward stage at the edge of womanhood. Princess Amelia hated to be on display and she often gave the impression of haughtiness, an accusation that, though never said to her face, had sometimes brought her to tears.
I had the impression Rose felt much the same way but that she did not cry. She'd blushed, a line of freckles across her nose and cheeks standing out and her gray-green eyes bright. It was rude of me to leave her standing there while I considered her future.
"You are quite lovely, Rose," I said. She blushed all the more and her father made an unpleasant sound. "I am sure we will meet again before you and your family leave."
I gave a bow of my head. She retreated back behind her parents though she must have slouched to avoid being seen since she stood a head taller than them.
The rest of the presentations took another hour. I nodded, smiled, spoke now and then, and thought mostly about Rose. I hadn't seen Lord McCallis in at least five years. I suspected now that the lack of sons had embarrassed him. Since I only had one daughter, I did not consider it a badge of dishonor, though the gods knew I heard enough whispers about not having a proper heir.
With the tedious morning done, my daughter and I retired to our private suite. I signaled the servants away as soon as was proper. Too soon and they worried about what they'd done wrong and I would have to deal with nervous, upset young women who were apt to break into tears at a glance from me.
When they were gone, Amelia threw herself into the nearest chair in a dramatic pose of despair. "I cannot stand it, all those dull, staring eyes --"
"What did you think of her?" I asked.
"I don't know," she admitted and didn't pretend not to know whom I was talking about. This was a huge step forward in our relationship. I had hardly known my mother, who kept her own court and sent me off to be raised by my uncle. I married. I had a daughter. My husband died in a fencing duel, trying to prove himself.
And now I am a Queen with no son. I could have had some sympathy for Lord McCallis if he hadn't been such a pompous bastard.
"What shall we do about Rose?" I asked as I settled, a bit less dramatically, in the chair at my desk.
"Rescue her," Amelia said. Those words startled me, but when I looked into her face, she gave me a grave nod. "I suddenly have that feeling, mama."
My daughter has a 'gift' and it is not one I would have wished on her. She tried to warn her father about his upcoming death. She has tried to warn servants about dangers, but no one listened to her except for me. Seeing the look on her face, I stood at once. So did she. I started to call a servant to lead us to Lord McCallis's suite, but Amelia knew the way instinctively.
Servants scattered. Royal Guards fell in behind us and had a hard time keeping up. We were all breathless by the time we reached the door and Amelia pounded on it with a frantic haste that made me worry. I saw servants gathered at the end of the hall, all of them appalled to see us there.
"My Queen," one young woman said and came to kneel at my feet. "He sent us all out. We heard blows, but no cries --"
"She wouldn't," I said. "Captain, the door."
He and four of his young men battered it in with two great blows.
"How dare you draw her attention!" Lord McCallis roared.
Rose was on her knees, her arms around her head for protection. Her mother and sisters stood back and looked on -- no emotion there in any of their faces. Lord McCallis had a cane raised, but he stared in stupid shock at the intrusion into his rooms. He started to shout, saw his Queen, and dropped the cane instead.
Amelia went straight to Rose. I had never seen her so angry for the sake of another.
By the end of the week, Lady McCallis and her four younger daughters were off to live with her brother, Lord Martin, and his wife. I would hold the McCallis estate in trust, paying for their upkeep and dowries for the girls when the time came.
Lord McCallis went into exile.
And as for Amelia and Rose -- well, they deserve tales of their own.