Jonathan kept his face blank at the summoning and nodded. Inwardly, he was already considering his options for fleeing, murder, and death.
He was led to a reception room and left there with his thoughts. The guard, fortunately, remained outside in the hall.
The biggest issue was that Tam knew who he was. If she was questioned, she wouldn’t know she would be selling him out. If Jonathan left mysteriously, it would still cause trouble for her.
Jonathan was going to have to craft a believable backstory for his current identity or discard the name of Jonathan and leave the country. His current hope was to claim that he was an old servant of Prince Millan and was misunderstood. It really had been what he was going for, but he had messed up by not insisting on his fake story.
He wondered idly if the food and drink on the table was actually safe to eat. There could be multiple reasons for issues with the safety of food in a castle. It would be a shame to have someone trying to poison the king or queen, and have him die instead.
The decoration of the place was, at least, rather nice. Large tapestries covered the walls, depicting scenes of fields, mountains, workers, and beasts.
Oceton had decided to perch on the table. He refused to touch any of the food.
The door opened and someone entered, along with guards and servants.
The man at the head of the small unit of people smiled at Jonathan. “Deimena’s on the way. It’s a pleasure to finally meet one of my wife’s younger brothers. I’m King Chadwick Ichabod Noran-Lyon but please, you can just call me Wick. We’re family after all.” He was dark skinned and his hair had been braided back in an elaborate fashion.
Before Jonathan could say anything, the king spoke again. “If you all wouldn’t mind leaving. I’d love to spend some time with my brother-in-law alone.” He didn’t appear to be armed.
Jonathan bowed after the servants left. “My apologies, Your Majesty, but there’s been some type of miscommunication.”
“Oh no, really? Then who are you?”
The door opened once again, and Queen Deimena entered. “I heard there was news of Millan, despite his disappearance?” She was dressed in a similar manner to her husband. The black hair with an almost purple tinge. Her lips seemed permanently stuck into a pleasant, misleading smile.
Jonathan winced at that information for multiple reasons. “It seems there has been some miscommunication,” he repeated. “I worked for Prince Roscoe, under Mr. Trival.”
Deimena was looking him over. “Roscoe’s servant?”
“Yes.” Jonathan let a frown grow on his face. “I left after the fire.”
“Roscoe,” Deimena repeated thoughtfully. “That makes sense, but a regular servant would never be allowed to carry an imperial signet.” She leaned in closer and held his face between her hands. Her expression seemed more genuine now.
Jonathan froze in place. He had no idea of what to expect, or how to respond. If this kept going further south, he might need to actually run for it.
“You think I wouldn’t know you because you’re older? You aren’t Millan. You aren’t a servant. You are Roscoe.”
Jonathan sighed and stopped avoiding the queen’s gaze. He guessed the game was up, at least part of it. No one except for Peter knew that he was actually from a different world. “Just call me Jonathan now.”
Deimena crushed Jonathan in a hug and then tugged him over to the table. She had turned from stony to enthusiastic in a matter of moments. “Come, sit and eat while we can catch up.”
Chadwick sat down on the other side of the table, on Deimena’s right. He was still smiling and seemed to find the whole thing rather amusing. “It seems you can still call me Wick.”
Jonathan chuckled in a wary manner. He didn’t find it wise to trust a rebel leader who had successfully usurped a throne.
“Last time we spoke was about six years ago right before I left for Alita. You would have been fifteen or sixteen? You’ve grown up quite a lot, baby brother.” The last part was said in a teasing manner.
Jonathan rolled his eyes, but didn’t fall for the bait. “You’ve taken over a kingdom since then. I think your accomplishments are a bit bigger than mine.” He shoved the guilt that was choking his throat down with ease. Roscoe should be the one joking with his sister, but Roscoe wasn’t here.
“We met, we planned, and we won,” Deimena said simply. “And what have you been up to?” There was a soft look in her eyes, encouraging him to tell her the truth. “Why did you fake your death, and how is there a phoenix on my table?”
Jonathan considered his options and decided to answer both. “Consort Lorelei, and chance.”
“I understand the first, yet not the second. Luck is never the only factor for finding and bonding with a phoenix. Don’t play it off as something normal.” Chadwick looked at Oceton with some curiosity, but made no move to touch the bird. “There’s only three known phoenix eggs in this continent, and they’re all in the possession of powerful families.”
Deimena took over the conversation when neither of the men continued the tangent. She placed a hand over Jonathan’s, showing her concern. “Did the attempts on you get bad enough that you had to run?”
“I almost died twice in as many days,” Jonathan dryly responded.
Chadwick looked slightly impressed. “What caused that?”
“Assassins,” Jonathan simply said. He saw no point in elaborating.
Deimena frowned briefly, but wiped the expression away with ease. She had faced the same, as the second oldest of the heirs to the Hrea Empire’s throne. “What are you doing currently?”
Jonathan took in a breath and carefully explained, “Living a normal life, and that’s what I want.” He still hadn’t touched the meal. There was something about Deimena that he didn’t trust still; maybe it was because she reminded him of his childhood friend, or maybe it was because the warm response only drove home the fact that he wasn’t Roscoe.
“A normal life with a phoenix?” Chadwick asked with a chuckle. He had already eaten several smaller foodstuffs.
Jonathan couldn’t help but reflect the amusement. “Yes, a normal life with a phoenix.” He picked up a small cracker with unknown meat and sauce on it, then nibbled on it. Unsurprisingly, it was quite good and he found himself finishing the rest of the small appetizers.
“Do you know anything about Emlyn and Millan disappearing?”
“No. However, I heard from a reliable source that they were in Pinscher about a month or two ago.” Jonathan’s source was actually the two missing people in question.
“Interesting.” There was blatant vitriol in Deimena’s voice. “I just hope that old hag isn’t up to her tricks again.” The anger stayed on her features longer than the others, a sort of bitter grudge that showed in the flash of her teeth and furrowed eyebrows.
Jonathan nodded in agreement and tapped at the table.
Oceton heard the signal and hopped over to Jonathan’s shoulder.
The door opened partially. A servant quietly announced that the squire had gotten the antidote and was conscious again.
Chadwick inclined his head towards Jonathan. A serious expression was on his face for once. “My thanks to you on behalf of our knights.”
Deimena smiled in a large, boisterous manner and gestured towards Jonathan. “You’ve changed and grown up. I’m proud of you.”
“You’re welcome, and thank you,” Jonathan responded, a bit stiffly. He always found it a bit awkward to accept praise of any sort, likely due to his mother. It was also a bit awkward to accept praise on the behalf of someone else.
Deimena stood up, followed afterwards by the two men. She had completely cleaned her plate. “It’s been wonderful catching up, but I’ll let you go see the young girl you saved! She’ll want to thank you herself.”
“That’d be appreciated.” Jonathan found himself slightly regretting that he hadn’t eaten more of the food. He hadn’t eaten today at all besides those appetizers.
Meet the oldest Imperial Princess, Queen Deimena, and her husband.
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