Chapter 4

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Corin opened the bedroom door and peered around to find the room deserted. He wasn't quite sure if he was pleased or disappointed, but at least it avoided another scene. His valet, Alsten entered the room bearing a tray laden with a tea pot, cup and saucer and a small blue bottle.

Ignoring the tea with a grimace he plucked the bottle from the tray and pulled out the cork. He peered at the contents with trepidation before taking a deep breath and swallowing it in one go.

Alsten waited, silent, until the his employer had finished turning the air blue with a litany of foul language before making any comment.

"Will you be going out today, Sire?" he enquired and Corin cast a glance towards the large windows overlooking the front of the grand house. It was still raining - not that he had expected anything else.

"I don't plan to," he said with a sigh, wondering what the hell he was going to do all day. Of course there was a veritable mountain of official documents he should be dealing with waiting for him in his office, but hell could freeze over before he was dealing with that lot. He pursed his lips, contemplating and then asked. "Where is he?"

He was unsurprised when Alsten didn't ask who he was enquiring about. "His highness slept in that chair, Sire," he said, gesturing beside the fireplace. "He has just broken his fast and I believe you may still find him in the stables."

Corin scowled. "The devil with him," he muttered. He wasn't going to go looking for trouble.

A knock at the door sounded and Corin called for whoever to come in. His butler, Malen stood in the doorway with a disapproving expression. This was fairly normal but the shrill voice echoing from the downstairs hallway behind him was new and not altogether welcome.

"I apologise for disturbing you so early, Sire, but ..." Malen paused and looked over his shoulder with a grimace as the shouting had just ramped up an octave. "But there is a ... person, insisting that you come at once, on behalf of the Lady Luel."

"Luel?" Corin repeated in surprise.

"Apparently so, Sire" Malen said. "Her maid is of the opinion that you need to meet her by the old bridge at Edda's brook with all possible haste."

Corin frowned. He was well used to assignations with young ladies in remote locations, but they weren't usually arranged by hysterical maids.

"Alsten, I need to dress, immediately," he said, heading back to his room. "Malen," he added over his shoulder. "Tell the young lady I will be there directly."

Malen sighed. "Very good, Sire," he replied, with the air of someone who was too used to the vagaries of the upper classes to comment.

Five minutes later, much to the distress of his valet and after a quick interview with the blushing maid, Corin was running towards the stables. A groom was standing with his horse waiting for him as instructed, and behind them, Laen, with his massive black horse Skylla dancing impatiently on the cobbled floor of the yard.

"What's to do?" Laen asked, frowning.

For a moment Corin toyed with the idea of not replying, it would serve the stubborn bastard right after all; but if he was correct in supposing why Luel might need him, Laen needed to know too.

He mounted his horse and gestured for Laen to accompany him. "Come on," he said. "I'll tell you on the way."

***

Luel made her way through the tangled meadow and cursed as the hem of her dress became quickly sodden and her shoes soaked through. She fervently wished that whatever it was that was playing on the Prince's mind was dealt with, and quickly, for she was heartily sick of grey skies and torrential rain.

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