A man only a few years older than Toad, dressed as formally as Toad had ever seen outside a state occasion, was seated on a high-backed silk-covered armchair, reminiscent of a throne. Toad was left alone with the king with alacrity, two sets of French doors closing tightly to Toad's left and behind him. He made his Court bow and the king waved him to a seat on a less comfortable chair about five feet away.
"Marquess of Abersham? Is that correct?"
"Yes, Your Majesty, heir to the Duke and Duchess of Wellbridge and Seventh Sea Shipping. And I speak German, if Your Majesty would prefer it, and can indulge any small errors."
"You do? Excellent." The king switched to German as easily as Toad might switch from French to English. "Tell me why you are here in Greece."
"Do you not know the story, Your Majesty? I am the new Managing Agent for Delphinus Shipping, an old and respected Grecian company that has lain dormant some forty years. My uncle, the Marquess of Firthley in England, is a native son of Greece, and would have been heir to Delphinus, had Napoleon not had his way. He cannot take on the rigors of building a shipping line, but he can certainly fund one, and my education in France has been entirely in service to such an enterprise."
"Yes, you trained as a sailor. Quite a novel occupation for a duke's son. I was glad to hear from Leopold's court that it did not give you a distaste for your own class."
Toad tried saying nothing first, in the hopes he would not be expected to answer, in part because he did not have a distaste for his class. He simply didn't have one for any other class, either, and thought there should be less division between them, overall. He breathed easier when the king began speaking again. "You have heard talk of this constitution?"
Ah, there was the silence that required a response. "Of course, I have, Your Majesty. It is the topic of conversation the length and breadth of Greece, to say nothing of the rest of Europe. At the very least, no man with business interests is unaware, and I have business interests across the Continent and beyond."
"I have heard from Italy that you are both a businessman and a monarchist, which is, itself, odd."
"I'm sure many businessmen are monarchists."
"Not many noblemen engage in business."
"Every nobleman I know engages in business. Most do not keep an office outside their home."
"You are clever, Lord Abersham. If eccentric."
Toad raised his brows and sat back, declining to answer again.
Fortunately, the king took that as agreement, for Toad might see himself ejected, or worse, detained, if the king took up against him. Still, his father had impressed upon him that one should never lie to a monarch if it could possibly be avoided, and sometimes it could be avoided just by letting them talk about themselves. Prinny's ire when Toad had dissembled at age six was enough to drive the lesson home.
"I am concerned I will need transport away from Greece for myself and my family. I am told you have a ship adequate to such a royal journey. Since you are a member of the nobility and an avowed royalist, and your family here have been loyal to me, I think it more likely than not you will see the wisdom of supporting the throne in any such rebellion."
"I have ships," Toad said tentatively. "But you have ships, Sire."
"I prefer to arrange travel in a manner unknown to the Grecian military."
"I see." Toad drew in a breath and called upon the ghost of his mother's first husband, who had navigated throne rooms and royal politics with an expertise unparalleled in modern mercantile history. "The ship you to which you refer, the Delphinus ambassadorial frigate, is currently on loan to Grand Duke Leopold. But I can provide other ships, not so well-decorated, until we can offer a similar conveyance."
YOU ARE READING
Never Kiss a ToadRomance
[A Victorian romance continuing family stories begun in the various Regency books of Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle.] David "Toad" Northope, heir to the Duke of Wellbridge and rogue in the mold of his infamous father, knows Lady Sarah "Sal" Grenf...