Absence

By: A. J. Phoenix

Book Two of the Maid for Majesty Series


Prologue



The disappearance of Madeline Black wasn’t of any importance to the prestigious nobility of England. Throughout their stuffy afternoon teas, political talks over brandy and chatter at court, Madeline Black’s name was never uttered. A runaway slave was not uncommon among noble households. Though it was rare that servants of the King escaped the royal residences, it was of little consequence to the gentry. Even Baroness Lady Watson, who had known Miss Black for a number of years, never questioned why she had run away. It wasn’t newsworthy, much less gossip worthy. Conversations about Napoleon’s exile, the whereabouts of Lord Bathory, political changes within the continent and the latest fashions were interesting.

Though the absence of Madeline Black had gone unnoticed by the aristocracy, the behaviour of the King had not. He had become detached from the world around him. Rumours that he had become distant like his mother were whispered about the castle walls by servants and nobles alike. Soon, word had hit the streets of London that the King wasn’t himself. Very few knew the reasons why. Those that did tried to keep the matter private. Everyone else who was in the King’s company noticed the change a month before Christmas. The King began to miss some of his morning meetings, hunting excursions, tennis matches and breakfasts, choosing to sleep in instead. He hid beneath the covers of his silk sheets requesting to be left alone.

After Christmas, he became very behind in his work. He made empty promises to his advisors; even Sir Ashton and Greg Umbridge were no exception. Assuring them he would attend to all his royal duties later, the King often changed his plans.

When spring came, the King rarely followed his royal schedule or any of his regular routines. Often times Sir Ashton, the valets and Greg Umbridge would find him in the most unusual places. If he was not sleeping in his bed, he could sometimes be found in the Royal Mews, petting the horses or sitting in the carriages. On other occasions, he had been found walking the halls of the servants’ dormitories or about the hedge maze on Windsor grounds. Most disconcerting of all was his rebellious choices; he would sneak out of the castle late at night, and most times did not return until the early hours of morning. One night, he had trekked all the way back to Buckingham and spent the night in the Mistress’ Chambers.

The most bizarre of all of his behaviours was his affinity with a particular blue and white Ming vase. He carried it about with him from time to time. Unfortunately, these acts fuelled the rumour that the King was going crazy.

Though there were many parties, the King seldom went to any. He knew what the peerage thought, but didn’t care. His heart ached too much to care for anything. The few times he held court, he called upon Lady Watson. She could not be more delighted with his sudden interest socialising with her and fanned her bosom, giggling with him when he spoke to her. Casually, he would bring up Madeline Black, but Lady Watson had no information to offer.

The King’s behaviour made things awkward for Princess Sofia. She hardly knew what to do or where to be. The King rarely showed up for meals and she often found herself having dinner with Sir Gregory. At first, his devil-may-care attitude was an embarrassment for her. Often he would talk to the help as if they were his friends, drink more than his fair share of alcohol and offer Sofia seconds of all the dishes served. She often reminded him it wasn’t his place to play host.

She hated the situation … at first. As time went on and she saw less and less of Alex, she began to look forward to Greg’s company. Whenever she was blue about Alex’s disinterest, Greg was always there to occupy her mind. They spent many afternoons playing instruments together, dancing, and taking walks around the castle grounds. She taught him flamenco and he taught her how to play cards.

Of course, many of the staff at Windsor were curious about all the time the two were spending together, and rumours began to circulate amongst the servants and guards about the relationship. The rumours were quickly put to rest by Mr. Tinney, who made it quite clear that such a rumour would be an insult to the King himself.

But the rumours didn’t bother Sofia. She had not had much of an opportunity to get to know the English nobility and was never questioned by anyone about the nature of her relationship with Sir Gregory. The first several weeks she was in England, she was busy trying to impress Alex, and had spent most of her time going on excursions; she didn’t get familiar with any English nobles.

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