Modern Crusaders, Book 2

Even Heroes…

By PsiDraconis

Disclaimers: This story is about Superpowered Lesbian Royalty From Atlantis. If there's any portion of that you don't like (personally, I can't stand the word "From"… lousy bastard of a preposition; it's against God) then read elsewhere. The characters herein own me, and have graciously allowed me to chronicle their adventures. (Read: Keep me up all night and don't let me sleep until I do what they want. Which can be fun under other circumstances, but so far has only given me nasty papercuts.)

Notes: This is a partially re-edited version of the two stories that were called "A Thousand Miles" and "Even Hereos…" (previously Books 2 and 3 of Modern Crusaders) They have been joined into a single volume under the name "Even Heroes…", making this the new Book 2 of the series. The next book will be Book 3. Confused yet? Very little in the way of actual content has changed in this revision. A couple of scenes have been added and subtracted, and a few of the characters and locales have undergone consmetic changes. If you've already read the previous version, you probably don't need to read this one, but a few things in following books might make a bit more sense if you do.


Feedback: As always

Minerva answered, "Do not try to keep me, for I would be on my way at once. As for any present you may be disposed to make me, keep it till I come again, and I will take it home with me. You shall give me a very good one, and I will give you one of no less value in return."

With these words she flew away like a bird into the air, but she had given Telemachus courage, and had made him think more than ever about his father. He felt the change, wondered at it, and knew that the stranger had been a god…

    Homer, The Odyssey

Chapter 1

“I am Her Royal Highness Princess Evelynne Sophia al-Heru deMolay of Atlantl.”

The stranger's face in the mirror did not look impressed.

She squinted into the reflective surface, clenching her face into an exaggerated grimace, and then relaxed it again, some part of her hoping that the action would somehow morph her features back into their familiar appearance. It didn't, of course.

Her hands went of their own volition to her neck, absently brushing it, still unused to the coolness there. Her whole head felt strange, she realized, as though a huge weight had been removed. Which it had, she supposed. Fingers long used to brushing lengths of flame-coloured hair behind her ears tried to do the same now and encountered… nothing. Those shoulder-length tresses were gone now, leaving behind a short crop of spiky red hair.

Her fingers did encounter the arms of a pair of square-framed glasses, their lenses—actually nothing more than thin pieces of glass, since they were in reality functionally unnecessary—providing little windows through which blue eyes viewed the world.

It was definitely not the face of someone destined to become the ruler of one of the most powerful nations on the planet.

“I am Sophia Temonet Doherty.”

The brown-haired woman found her red-haired companion sitting on the tiny balcony, looking out over the lights of the city, and spent a moment just looking at the woman whom she loved deeply. The two weeks since they had arrived had been deceptively quiet, but that had not lessened the stress that both women felt. The events taking place back in the smaller woman's homeland—which was also the taller woman's adoptive one—were the source of the tension, as was the sense of impotence at their inability to affect matters, a sensation that neither found familiar or comfortable. The continued stress had etched premature tension into the smaller woman's face, despite everything her companion tried to do to eliminate it.

"Are you planning on standing there and staring at me all night, or are you going to come over here and kiss me?" the sitting woman asked, her voice laced with humour.

"Well, as tempting as gazing at you for hours might be, if it's a choice between that and kissing you… Can I do both?" The tall woman took the two steps required to move to her lover's side.

"I wish you would," her companion said, snaking an arm out to draw her down into a passionate kiss. Finally they broke apart. "Hello, Ally, love."

"Hey, Evy," Alleandre Tretiak greeted warmly. She carefully lowered herself into her lover's lap. "How did it go today?"

"Not too terribly," Evelynne Sophia al-Heru deMolay replied, wrapping her arms around Ally's waist. "I managed to do a whole two loads of washing all by myself."

Ally chuckled. "You sound so proud of yourself."

"Hey, give me a break. I've never even had to think about doing my own laundry before. This is a big thing for me," Evelynne protested.

"I know, and I'm proud of you," Ally said, dropping an affectionate kiss on her lover's head. She hesitated. "You did separate the colours, right?"

"Of course I did," Evelynne said, frowning. "Some things are just common sense. Of course, it helps when the instructions on the detergent specifically tell you to do so. Stop laughing." She poked Ally in the ribs, turning her chuckles into a familiar involuntary squeak. "How about you? How was your day?"

"Mmm." Ally shrugged, her tone noncommittal. "I got some leads. Nothing spectacular, but I should be able to bring in enough to at least maintain the illusion that we need to make money. There's a tutoring service hiring for the college and high schools."

"I wish I could go and do something," Evelynne said, voicing some of her own frustration. "I'm going to go insane if I have to stay here all day. Damn it, Ally, I was born to do things, not be a stay-at-home wife!"

"I know, and I'm sorry you have to right now. All I'm asking is that you wait a bit, get used to just being 'Evelynne'. Or 'Sophia'. Please?" Ally looked into her lover's eyes, her gaze entreating. "You're the most important thing in my life. I don't want you getting hurt."

As usual, Evelynne crumbled before the openness of her lover's face. "I know. It's frustrating, that's all. We did all this so that I wouldn't have to be shut up for months or years. I need to be doing something."

"I understand. Please, just give it a little longer for us both to get a feel for this place. We've only been here two weeks, and we've only had this apartment for two days. Please just be patient."

Evelynne sighed. "All right.  But I'm not going to sit around doing nothing forever," she warned.

"I'd never ask you to," Ally replied, pleased to have settled her lover for a little while longer. She nuzzled her nose into the short red hair next to her face. "Have I told you how hot your hair looks like this?"

Evelynne reflexively raised her hand to run her fingers through the short locks. "It still feels strange," she admitted. She smiled wryly. "And yes, you may have mentioned that a time or two. Since when have you had a hair fetish?"

Ally shrugged. "I don't know. I just have. Which is weird, since neither you nor Annie had short hair when I met either of you. I suppose it shows that I'm drawn to more than just physical looks. Not that having a stunningly beautiful fiancée is a bad thing."

"My, you are laying on the charm tonight," Evelynne said, chuckling. “However, for me it's these that are going to take some getting used to.” Her fingers lightly brushed the curve of Ally's right ear, where no less than six earrings adorned its previously unblemished skin. Her hair had also changed from its familiar short, wavy brown style, and was now a darker hue and straight, giving the impression that it was longer. “Is it still sore?”

“A little,” Ally admitted. “They ache a bit, and sometimes they catch when I'm putting on a shirt.” She closed her eyes and purred as Evelynne caressed her ear. “But when you're doing that I don't even notice. You can do that all night if you want.”

"Are you trying to seduce me?"

"Well, kind of," Ally admitted, and even in the dark Evelynne could feel her flush. "Is it working?"

"It's working," Evelynne admitted. She hesitated. "I'm sorry I haven't wanted to make love since we left. It's just that—"

"It's okay, I understand," Ally interrupted. "You've been under a lot of stress. You never have to apologise for not wanting to… well, you know. And while I would always appreciate an explanation of why you might not want to, you never have to explain until you're ready. Right now I know why, and I'm willing to give you as much time as you need."

"You're too good to me," Evelynne murmured, burying her face in Ally's throat. She was able to feel her lover's accelerated pulse beating against the fine hairs on her cheek, and felt even more guilty for denying Ally the intimacy the other woman desired—although her much shyer fiancée would never explicitly admit it. "You're going to make someone a wonderful wife." She pressed a light kiss to the hollow of Ally's throat, pleased when her lover's breath hitched.

"You, I hope," Ally said breathlessly.

"Of course me," Evelynne murmured, beginning to nip at the side of Ally's neck. "Why, do you have some other options in mind?"

"Not re-really. Although I'm still waiting on Angelina Jolie."

"Well, she can join us on one condition: that she loves you as much as I do. And that's a pretty tall order." Evelynne pulled back slightly and frowned. "Are you levitating?" she asked.

"I didn't want to squish you," Ally said.

"Well," Evelynne said, reaching up to slowly undo the top button of Ally's shirt, "stop. I am in the mood to be squished." There was no verbal reply, but the weight in her lap increased suddenly, confirming her suspicions. *It's not as if you weigh enough to crush me anyway,* she said much more intimately, her warm, loving thoughts bypassing Ally's ears entirely as they entered her mind. She moved on to the next button.

"God, Evy," Ally breathed, almost collapsing into a puddle, before stiffening suddenly and grasping the hand that had been stealing into her shirt. "Not here, okay?" She glanced out into the darkness beyond the balcony, as if expecting to see a news helicopter filming their every move.

"All right," Evelynne agreed, using her hand to trace circles on Ally's belly instead. "Would a more private location work for you?" Ally nodded shakily. "Then what are you waiting for?"

Moments later they were inside, leaving the lights of Horton City, Pennsylvania, to themselves.

Vision: The moon shining on clouds, seen from above. A rat in an alley, unaware of the cat about to pounce. A red-haired woman arching beneath the body of another. A man watching a rugby game on television, yelling at the screen. A crab walking across the riverbed, investigating an old tire. The interior of a heart, steadily pumping.

Sound: A train rumbling along the tracks as it continues accelerating. The bark of a dog. The quiet hum of fluorescent lights. A breathless gasp. The scratching of tiny claws over a wood floor. The drip of water into a pool.

Fading like a dream upon waking, as she slowly rose—or fell—to a different level of consciousness, senses attempting desperately to report to a brain overwhelmed by sensation. Gradually feeling the confusion fade, allowing thought to resurface.

"Claire? Claire, can you hear me?" Sound, a real voice, cut through the cacophony of imagined sensation.

Claire. That's my name, she realised. She couldn't remember who exactly was talking, but was reassured that at least it was a real person, and that she could actually spare the mental power to process the thought. In fact, now that she was aware of it, she could tell that one of the montage of images overlapping in her vision was somehow more real than the others, and she concentrated on bringing it more clearly into focus. Slowly it sharpened into a worried face, capped by short blond hair. Behind it other faces were looking down, although they were obscured by the glare of the fluorescent lights on the ceiling.

Finally, the last of the ghost images and sounds slipped away, leaving behind only a vague memory of their existence, like a barely remembered dream, and Claire realised that her body was aching and her head was pounding. It was still an improvement.

"Claire, you all right?" the face, delicate and fair-skinned, asked again.

Claire blinked and groaned and began to sit up, aided by the strong hands on her shoulders. "Yeah, I am, Corey," she replied hoarsely. She swallowed against a surge of nausea. "Or I will be. Could you get my pills out of my bag?"

"Already got 'em," Corey said, holding out a couple of small white tablets. He looked up at one of the onlooking faces. "Could you get her some water?"

"Miss Jones, are you all right?" This time the speaker was an elderly gentleman in a suit who knelt down beside her.

"I will be," Claire repeated. "Just give me a minute. It's a condition I have."

"Epilepsy?" the older man inquired. "Do you need an ambulance?"

"Not quite," Claire replied. "Really, I'll be fine." She looked up and smiled as a young woman returned with a paper cup of water which was hesitantly held out. Claire reached out to take it, suppressing the small surge of hurt with the ease of long practice as the other woman flinched slightly as their hands met. "Thanks."

The young woman who had passed it over gave a slightly uncomfortable smile, as though apologising for her reaction. The show apparently over, the small crowd dispersed.

"Well, if you're sure you'll be fine…" The older man looked at Claire carefully, questioning. "Then will I be seeing you in class tomorrow?"

"I'll be there," Claire promised. "Thanks, Doctor Schmidt. I'll just sit here with Corey for a while."

"Very well," the professor said. He patted her on the shoulder. "Take care." Even though another professor might have offered more assistance, neither Claire nor Corey was offended by the older man's absent-minded attitude. They both had an advanced math course with him, and were fully aware that he related much more readily to numbers and theorems than to mere human beings.

Dr. Schmidt walked away, leaving Claire and her friend to lean back against the wall, ignoring the curious glances of other students passing by. Thankfully, there weren't many, only those who were also taking advantage of the small college's night school. Claire leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, pleased beyond words that her mind was once more quiet and calm, even if the headache hadn't abated.

"You sure you're okay, Claire?" Corey asked. "That looked like a bad one."

"Well, it sure wasn't a walk in the park," his companion snapped, and instantly regretted her sharp tone. "Sorry. I just have a headache like you wouldn't believe." She ran her fingers into her long black hair and began a massage of her scalp that brought mild relief.

"Oh, I believe it," Corey replied, taking the opportunity to look at his friend more closely.

Claire's long, ruler-straight hair normally fell past her shoulder blades, and currently hung in slight disarray over her face, concealing the strong cheekbones and round eyes that bespoke an ancestry that could be traced back to Africa. The thing that caused most people to take a second look was the fact that, rather than the dark skin that most expected, Claire's skin was a patchwork of the expected milk-chocolate colour and an equal amount of nearly pure ivory, creating random patterns that covered her body like a zebra's coat. When Claire shook the hair, also sporting a blend of near-black and gleaming white, back from her face again, Corey could see her eyes, equally mismatched, one a dark brown, and the other an incredibly pale blue, bearing a pink tinge that was characteristic of albinism. The pale left eye was set in the midst of a section of white skin that covered an irregular area of nearly half her face, and the skin beneath it was stained by a deep blue bruise that corresponded to the nearly black one under the other eye. Such bruises were common after one of Claire's attacks.

"Okay, I'm up," Claire said after a few more minutes of rest, and Corey leapt to his feet to help his still-shaky companion to stand.

Keeping a firm grip on Claire's arm, Corey guided them both towards the exit to the college building. "You should really think about taking tomorrow off," he said. "Call in sick."

Claire winced. "I wish. I just can't afford it. Utilities are due at the end of the month, and at the moment I can just barely afford to pay for them, assuming I don't eat for two weeks. And no, I won't let you pay for both halves again. You need to eat, too. And I know what you're saving for."

Corey had no response to that. "Well, we'll get by somehow."

Ally awoke with a start and spent several moments blinking in confusion. She normally woke very quickly, moving from sleep to full wakefulness without a pause when the need arose. However, Evelynne had been particularly amorous the night before, and had seemed determined to make up for the previous two weeks of abstinence. The result was a thoroughly sated, mildly aching, and completely exhausted pair of women.

That exhaustion was what was making Ally's thoughts come so slowly, and it took her a moment to identify the sound that had awoken her. The knocking—pounding, really—at the front door of the apartment echoed through the bedroom, even muffled by the closed bedroom door, and Ally reflexively threw back the blankets and sat up, peeling Evelynne's arm away from her waist. Her lover made an incoherent sound of protest and raised her face from where it had been pressed against Ally's back to blink up blearily at the woman sitting on the edge of the bed.

"O'che?" she queried fuzzily. "What…?"

"Someone at the door," Ally said, reaching for her glasses on the nightstand. "Stay here. Go back to sleep."

"With that?" Evelynne asked, her voice muffled by the pillow she was burying her face into. She stiffened suddenly as a thought occurred to her. "Is it trouble?"

Ally strove to make her sleep-deprived brain function fully, extending her perceptions outward towards the presence at the door. This particular talent had never been one of her strongest, and was even less effective now, but she was able to get a vague impression of the mind outside their apartment. The primary emotion was annoyance and frustration, verging on anger, but without any kind of homicidal impulse or real threat. The fragile thread snapped before any more impressions could be read, but it was enough to reassure Ally somewhat. "I don't think so." She winced as the pounding reached a new level. "Stay here," she repeated.

Standing, she wrapped a thick terrycloth robe around herself, wincing at the chill air that permeated the apartment. It was early summer, but the region was experiencing an unpredictable cold front. The more normal warm weather that they had been enjoying the previous evening had obviously passed, and even if it wasn't like the depths of winter, it was still enough to chill the floors uncomfortably. Didn't notice last night, though, Ally thought, blushing slightly at the memory. She quickly passed through the small living room—minuscule in comparison to the rooms Evelynne had been used to living in, though of average size by anyone else's measurement—noting its bareness and making a mental note to find some decorations somewhere.

"Damn it, Roger, you'd better not be hung-over again!" A loud, angry and obviously female voice could be clearly heard through the front door now. "I told you, one more time and you're fired!"

Ally took a moment to peek through the peephole in the door, confirming that there was in fact a woman on the other side of it. The image was too distorted to determine details, but there was nothing about her that seemed particularly threatening. Satisfied that there was no immediate threat, Ally cracked open the door and peeked out. "Um… hello?"

The woman stopped her arm in mid-knock and frowned, her expression moving from annoyed, to confused, to disgusted in the space of a few breaths, giving Ally a chance to get a better look at her. She was of medium height and build, probably in her early or mid-thirties, and her dark complexion was complemented by her jaw-length black hair. When she spoke her voice betrayed an accent that did not seem typical of the region. "Oh, great. Who are you, one of Roger's latest girlfriends? No, never mind, I don't care. Is he awake, or is he still stoned out of his pitiful excuse for a mind? Either way, you can go and tell him that he's fired."

"I don't know any Roger," Ally said, finally able to get a word in. She opened the door a little further. "Or at least none from around here. We—I just moved in here a couple of days ago. Do you have the right apartment?"

The woman's eyebrows rose. "He's gone?" she asked, ignoring the question. "Well, shit." She rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "You say you moved in a couple of days ago?" Ally nodded hesitantly. "Damn it, he's gone then. Without a word or anything." The woman sighed. "You new to the city?"


"I don't suppose you happen to be or know a decent bartender or waitress, do you? One that can start on really short notice?"

"Uh, no. Not really."

"Damn. Worth a shot." The woman fished in a pocket and came up with a colourful business card, which she handed over to Ally. "Listen, I'm Narmin. That's my place." She indicated the card. “Come around some time and have dinner on the house. My way of apologising for waking you up. Or not." Narmin looked more closely at Ally's neck, and then glanced beyond her. "Nice work," she commented.

Ally's head whipped around to see Evelynne standing hesitantly near the door to the bedroom, also wrapped in a dark blue robe.

"Pardon?" Evelynne asked.

"The neck," Narmin explained. "It's impressive." Ally's hand shot up to belatedly cover the large red patch on the side of her neck. Narmin's eyes looked up and down her body. "I can see where the inspiration comes from, though." Reaching Ally's flaming red face, her expression instantly turned apologetic. "Oh hey, I'm sorry. I really seem to be putting my foot in it today. Come on round and I'll throw in a round of drinks with your meal." Suddenly a beeping sound filled the air and Narmin looked down at a small pager clipped to her belt. "Damn, gotta go. Sorry again for disturbing you. Please, go back to… whatever it was you were doing." With that, she was off, powering down the hall at a brisk pace.

Ally slowly closed the door and turned to her lover, the business card still in her hand and a slightly stunned expression on her face. "Well, that was interesting," she said bemusedly. She glanced down at the card, noting the title "Narmin Baihum, Manager" under the name of the establishment. "'The Sixth Age Bar and Restaurant'. Well, I suppose we have a free meal at least."

Evelynne walked closer, rubbing at her eyes. "I suppose," she agreed. She squinted at the clock near the door and groaned. "It's way too early." She buried her face in Ally's shoulder.

Ally looked at the same clock and frowned sceptically. "Love, it's almost eight-thirty."

"So? If I recall correctly, you kept me up until three last night—"

"I kept you up?" Ally interjected incredulously.

"—and then again at four-thirty and six," Evelynne continued as if her lover hadn't spoken. "So yes, this is way too early."

"So, what? You want to go back to bed?"

"Well, if you insist," Evelynne replied, her voice bland as she turned and began to walk back in the direction of the bedroom. "Really, Ally, you're quite insatiable." The grin now hidden from Ally's sight was at odds with the mildly chastising tone of her voice. "You really should see someone about that." Her voice faded as the disappeared through the door, leaving Ally standing in the middle of the bare living room, her eyebrows threatening to merge with her hairline.

"Oh, I intend to," Ally muttered as she belatedly followed her lover. "Right now."

"There's something I wanted to talk to you about," Evelynne said as they lay in bed the next evening. She hesitated.

"Yeah? You know you can talk to me about anything." Ally was holding her fiancée in her arms, lazily running her fingers across Evelynne's bare back, just enjoying their mutual closeness.

The day had been particularly stressful, with Ally being unexpectedly called in for an interview with a tutoring service, which had left Evelynne once again alone in their apartment with only minimal and trivial tasks to keep her occupied. Evelynne's snappish temper when her lover had arrived home had taken Ally largely by surprise, especially since Evelynne had somehow managed to restrict the mental Link between them. It had caused Ally to snap back a few sharp comments of her own, something that always made her feel worse than when someone else was doing the striking out. The expression on Ally's face when she realised what she was doing had been enough to make Evelynne break down and drive her back into her fiancée's loving and forgiving embrace. They had spent the remainder of the evening just sitting and relaxing, watching a particularly dumb movie on television, and eventually making love slowly after that, until hunger had finally forced them to fix a late dinner before retiring early to the bedroom.

Evelynne's voice pulled Ally out of her introspection. "Well, you remember that woman who came by yesterday morning? The restaurant owner?"

"Of course," Ally replied. "Vividly." Her voice was amused as her eidetic memory replayed the encounter like a video behind her eyes.

"Well, I was thinking that we know she's looking for someone to take this Roger's place, and…" She hesitated, uncertain.

Ally frowned. "You think I should try to go for the job? I don't know, love. I've never done any waitressing or anything like that, and you know I'm really not comfortable around people."

"Oh, I know," Evelynne said quickly. "Actually, though, I was thinking that maybe I should try for it."


"Well, I have had some training in that area; most of the Atlantlan Nobility takes lessons in serving as part of our etiquette training. And it is a really low-key position. And it would give me a chance to talk to other people."

Ally's first instinct was to refuse outright, but several things stopped her. The first was that she knew that her partner was an emotional equal in this relationship and was entitled to her own opinions and desires. She also knew that Evelynne had truly been under huge amounts of stress since their flight from Atlantl, and that she was seeking an outlet—any outlet—for release, as the evening's previous encounter had proven. Neither of them dealt with lack of control very well, particularly Evelynne, who was used to making decisions and dealing with issues that affected whole Counties, if not an entire nation.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Ally asked, and while her tone was slightly doubtful, the question at least showed that she was willing to be persuaded. "I mean, what if someone sees you and recognises you?"

Evelynne propped herself up on an elbow to look down at her lover. "Recognise me? Who are they going to recognise? The last place anyone is going to expect to find me is working as a waitress in a bar in Pennsylvania. Please. Everyone knows I'm actually hiding out somewhere in Europe, probably amongst the rich and famous in Monaco somewhere. And if I happen to have some resemblance to the Heir to Atlantl, so what?" She shrugged one shoulder.

"The ‘Clark Kent Technique,'" Ally murmured. “You even have the glasses already.”


"I meant like how Superman managed to hide as Clark Kent in plain sight."

"Oh, I see. You know, I was never really convinced that nobody recognised him just because he wore glasses."

"It wasn't just the glasses; it was the whole attitude, tone of voice, body posture… There was this awesome scene in the first movie where Christopher Reeve almost literally changes his whole personality in the space of about two seconds. One moment he's Clark Kent, then he's suddenly Superman, then he's Clark Kent again. All without even taking off the glasses." Ally pulled herself back from where they had moved off topic. "Do you think you could do something like that?"

"I already do," Evelynne replied. "The only part of me that the rest of the world really knows is how I behave when I'm in the public eye. You know: public appearances, speeches, and such. Hardly anyone realises what I'm really like when I'm just being me."

"I do."

"I know." Evelynne smiled and kissed Ally briefly. "But I think it's safe to say that you're the only one around here who does."

Ally looked up at her lover seriously. "Do you really want to do this?"

Evelynne nodded. "I do. Although who knows whether I'll actually enjoy it? I might not be able to handle people giving me orders."

"May I—Do you want me to come with you?" Ally asked, and Evelynne smiled, knowing that her partner had just capitulated.

"I would," she replied. "I'm actually a little nervous. All right, a lot nervous. I've never done anything like this before."

Ally smiled back and reached up to pull Evelynne's lips to hers. "Welcome to my world now," she murmured.

"Those memos you requested, Your Majesty," the colourfully liveried servant said, discreetly interrupting the intense but not urgent discussion King Jad was having with his Agriculture Advisor.

"Ah, thank you, Meghan," the King said. "You know Doctor Carrerras, of course."

"Of course. Doctor Carrerras," Meghan greeted politely.

"Hello, Meghan," Miguel Carrerras said, smiling. "How are you doing?"

"I am well, sir, thank you," the servant replied. "I have just received a message from my niece and her husband. They have just bought a house."

The words were innocuous enough, but they were enough to force the King to carefully maintain his facial expression, even as the Advisor expressed his congratulations. He made himself look through the papers Meghan had just delivered, and then raised his head. "Well, I'm afraid I must cut this short, Miguel. There are some things here that I must take care of."

"Certainly, Your Majesty," Carrerras said, rising to his feet.

Once the Advisor had left, the King turned to his servant. "So, what does she say?" he asked, his tone softer and much more vulnerable than most people who knew him would have thought possible.

"She is well, Your Majesty," Meghan said. "She and her partner are both safe and healthy. There have been no signs of their continued… health problems." She paused. "She asked me to send her love to her father, seeing as he refuses to use email."

The King smiled wryly and a little sadly. "He's eccentric that way."

When Princess Evelynne and her fiancée Alleandre had been making plans to go into hiding almost three weeks previously, one of the problems had been maintaining some form of secure communication with their families. Under "normal" circumstances, using Guard assets to create a direct link would have been little problem, but recent events, culminating in the attempted coup and near assassination of the Royal Family, had shown that not even the most "secure" Guard methods could be trusted.

It had been Sir Adun, the Master of the King's Guard, who had created the current arrangement. With all Guard resources considered compromised, that had left exclusively non-Guard resources, and he had suggested using a willing civilian agent, one who had no ties to any official government agency, as an intermediary. After an exhaustive consideration process—including a number of interviews by Sir Arthur Ramirez, the princess' bodyguard, using his own special talents—Meghan Doherty, a skilled but undistinguished member of the Palace's cadre of servants, had been approached and recruited. She was a rather plain, quiet woman in her early fifties, and had the advantages of having regular access to the King in the course of her duties, and, perhaps most importantly, she had absolutely no ties to any of the Kingdom's security forces. And so she had suddenly gained a "niece" and "nephew", who had recently moved to the United States, and who kept their "family" apprised of their activities via innocuous, unassuming emails sent through a generic web-based account. And given the King's well-known habit of being personally interested in the family lives of those who served him, it was completely understandable that she would pass on this news to the King.

"Well, I'm sure he sends his love back to them in any case," the King continued. “He must worry about them.”

"I know he does, Your Majesty," Meghan replied with some sympathy.

Even here, in the King's private office, they were careful to avoid mentioning names. While the true extent to which the Guard and other official agencies had been compromised remained under investigation, what had already been discovered was frightening enough, and King Jad refused to take the slightest chance that some kind of listening or recording device had been placed in his office. Especially when the people most at risk were his daughter—and Heir to his Throne—and his future daughter-in-law.

"Well, let them know that I hope they remain hale and hearty," the King said, his tone becoming more businesslike as he began to read through the papers on his desk in earnest. Even this kind of comment was not unusual for the King, and was one reason why those who served him tended to be so fanatically loyal.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Meghan said, her own attitude becoming formal once again. "Was there anything else?"

"Could you ask Mohammed to get Regent Sindarim on the phone? We've been playing… What's the term? Tag telephone? Telephone tag, that's it. We've been playing telephone tag for the last two days. Oh, and could you ask him to get the latest reports from my Economic Advisor on the fallout on our exports since the Invasion?"

And so the repairing of a nation continued.

Continued in Chapter 2

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