The Dog Princess — Chapter XVI
In which Hartwell lies
Hartwell lay on his bed, pale-faced, when Philomena burst in, a terrified look on her face.
“What happened? Are you hurt?”
“I’m all right” he said. “Hennessy and I had a disagreement.”
Mistress Peona, the court’s Mistress of Health, had removed his shirt and was tending to a wound on his left shoulder.
“What kind of disagreement?”
“He teased me about my fighting skills, so I challenged him to a duel. He drew first blood, so I lost, but we’re all right now.”
“Is it bad?”
“Nothing to worry about, my lady” said Mistress Peona, threading a needle. Hartwell winced as she punched it through his skin, but he made an effort not to complain in front of Philomena.
“It will not do to wound the crown princess’s husband in his own home. I must speak to Hennessy at once” said Philomena, sternly.
“Should I fetch him, m’lady?” Said Pip, darkly.
“Leave it, Mena” said Hartwell. “It’s a man thing. We’re fine now.”
“You and your male pride.” Philomena threw up her hands.
The cut was nothing, just a thin superficial slit that bled a lot. As soon as the duel was over, Hounslow and Hennessy had tended to Hartwell’s wound and ridden back to the castle immediately. And even though he had lost, Hartwell was happy. Just a few months earlier, Hennessy would have disarmed him in two moves; this time, he’d been able to actually fight him, to the point that even his brothers had been impressed. Hennessy could have gone lighter on the cut, just a nick would have done, but once you say “first blood” you cannot take it back.
“There, my lord. All done. You’ll want to rest your arm for a while.”
“Thank you, Mistress Peona. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to have a word with my wife in private.”
Once everybody had left, Philomena took off her shoes and sat cross-legged at the foot of the bed. “You scared me half to death” she said.
“Don’t look so pleased with yourself. Who challenges their brother to a swordfight? Brothers don’t cut each other up, particularly when foreign relations are involved.”
“I told you, we’re all right. I think he respects me more now. I put up a good fight. Well, I blocked his attacks, at least, and put in a couple of good hits. Then he cut me.”
She sighed. “I talked to Zara and Zelda, but I didn’t go anywhere with it. I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do.”
“At least you tried.”
“It’s not enough. If your brother’s plan succeeds, Helden will become disproportionately powerful and rich. It might start eating up bits of other kingdoms, I mean: what’s to stop them? If they have enough money they can buy their way to world domination.”
“They won’t touch Petris.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because Petris has a smart queen.”
She gestured at his bandaged shoulder. “You need to promise me you will never, ever do anything like this again.”
“I can’t promise you that.”
“Because there are things worth fighting for.”
She shook her head. “You silly thing.”
Philomena waited until Hartwell had fallen asleep, then went to find her mother. She found the queen in her drawing room with the two princes, both looking like they had been thoroughly scolded.
“This is an absolute disgrace” she said. “I don’t care about pride. Nobody touches my husband with impunity.”
“We are truly sorry, your ladyship” said Hounslow.
“It will never happen again.”
There was guilt in their eyes, and something else, something unrelated to the incident itself. Shame, perhaps? Philomena was not so good at reading people. But they both avoided looking straight at her.
“I think we can put this down to manly exhuberance” said the queen, calmly. “Will you accept the princes’ apology, Philomena?”
She inhaled deeply. “I will.”
“Very well, then. How is prince Hartwell doing?”
“Resting. Hopefully he will be well enough to join us for dinner.”
“Very good.” Her mother looked a little too amused by the situation, thought Philomena.
“If there is nothing else, I will see your lordships at dinner” concluded the queen.
The two princes filed out, meekly.
“Are we really doing nothing about this, mother?”
“We are not.”
“We are not?”
“Go get changed for dinner, Mena. And stop thinking about it. It’s nothing.”
“What do you mean by nothing, mother? They attacked Hartwell. It is not nothing. It is everything.”
The queen smiled. “Maybe. But I still think there is nothing we should do. Now go! I want you in the dining room in half an hour, and please: stop sulking.”