Adam is five when it happens. He doesn't understand it at all, except that his father's face becomes tighter, and that his mother wanders around the house, tears in her eyes. Neil, who is ten at the time, looks at Adam in scorn and says that Adam should just know.
The world has changed. He doesn't really know it yet, but even at five, he sees that things are different.
When Adam is fifteen, the new King declares all music but that of his choosing to be banned, he begins to fathom. All Adam has wanted is to be involved with the theater, but that kind of music is no longer allowed. Adam plays none of the permitted instruments, and his high toned singing is considered too abnormal to continue on in even studying what is permissible.
It is then that he joins the revolution. Paula, his voice teacher, leads him to it, saying that many nobles have joined, and that perhaps he could find peace there. Adam loves it, diving into it as if it is a new song, creating new ideas the way he loved to create new music. He is the highest noble there, next to their leader.
When Neil abandons his spot as the future Duke of Angeles, Adam's situation becomes precarious. After all, Neil has no idea of Adam's membership in the revolution, has no idea that their slim chances have almost disappeared.
The best chance for success had been waiting for the Crown Prince to simply outlive his father. Or for the Crown Prince and the King's long standing feud to come to a head, and the younger brother to inherit.
Adam liked the second idea. The whole leadership council liked the idea. Their leader hadn't been so sure. Even though he is the second Prince himself.
Then Daniel disappeared.
So Adam has to deal with the new responsibilities of his duchy, taking over leadership of a doomed revolution, while also making himself known to the King and his progeny.
It's a wonder he does not go gray early.
But he does know that no matter the Crown Prince's political leanings, his reported arguments with his father cannot be completely unfounded. So the opportunity to meet him cannot be passed.
Adam looks at the mask in his hand. He has been told not to wear color, as the court follows the fashion of the Crown Prince. Adam hates the idea, but the dark gray is quite a good look for him. He rubs his hands together and lets out a breath. It's just another play. Just another stage.
He steps out of the carriage.
"His Royal Highness, Kristopher Neil Allen Cowell, Crown Prince of Dolonia!"
Kris makes his way down the steps carefully. It's not the grandest of entrances, but he doesn't trip and fall, so he supposes that's an accomplishment.
He waits at the bottom of the stairs for his parents. He lets the announcement wash over him, giving his father a polite nod and his mother a warm smile as they pass.
He watches them glide across the hall, to take their perches on the thrones. Later they will dance, stately and without passion.
The ball has begun.
It is like every other one: first he circles the room, making sure everyone has been welcomed. Then he dances with all the eligible men and women—not because he's interested, but because he understands that he will be King one day and there are political alliances to be made. Then he circles the room again, perhaps dancing again with one or two (but never the same one or two as the ball before.) Then shortly after his parents dance, he retreats to 'deal with matters of state.' He then spends the rest of the night watching his daughter sleep. Among other things.
Kris looks back to his parents. His mother looks out into the room, seeing nothing. His father looks out, trying to see everything. Kris watches carefully. He knows his every move will be analyzed, scrutinized, and lectured back at him tomorrow. His father is nothing but thorough in his need for Kris to be perfect.
Although Kris understands that he will never measure up in his father's eyes, that there will always be something at fault. In the last five years, he has begun to care less and less what his father thinks, and more and more about how he is perceived by his country.
After all, he will be King some day, and Kris has seen the way the citizens look at his Father, and while crime is down, and the people are fed, there is a gloom in their eyes, a fear that there will be no change.
Kris will not stand for things staying the same. But he also knows he must outlive his father first.
"His Grace, the Duke of Angeles."
Kris looks up to the stairs. No one is ever late for a ball, and Kris isn't even sure he's ever met any of the royalty from Angeles, but the man at the top of the stairs has received an invitation, so he must be real. Or at least have access to an excellent forger. And an impeccable tailor. And apparently, no name, although Ryan could be paid to say about anything you wanted.
Then Kris vaguely remembers something about the first son marrying out of country, and the second inheriting. It is one of the outlying duchies, and they do not appear in court often, so with his father's emphasis on those who do pay court, Kris is proud to remember that much.
The man at the top of the stairs is in dark gray, and saunters down just slowly enough so all eyes in the room are on him. The gray reflects the lights as he walks down the stairs, reflecting minute threads of purple and blue. Even that much color seems a breach of protocol, but the Duke walks forward as if his dress is no matter. Kris thinks it's a rather spectacular entrance. He walks over to the man.
"Your Grace," Kris says, "Welcome. I don't think we've ever had the pleasure of meeting."
Kris's breath catches at the directness of the Duke's gaze, blue and frozen.
"No. I think I would remember meeting you," the Duke murmurs.
Kris pauses for a moment, and then laughs politely. "Perhaps you'll find I am not all that interesting."
"I don't think so."
Kris watches as the man glides away, realizing he never actually asked for a name.
They dance a minuet, later. The Duke glides effortlessly across the floor; executing each move with a precision that spoke of old wealth and idle time spent learning the intricacies of the dance.
"I must apologize for missing most of this season," the Duke says, "but Angeles has been keeping me rather busy. I wasn't trained for my duties, and my brother left me appallingly in the dark."
"I must confess, I do not really remember ever knowing anyone from Angeles personally. So I did not realize I had missed you until you appeared."
A sly grin crosses the Duke's face.
"Very well played, your Highness."
"I do enjoy pleasurable banter from time to time," Kris says.
Kris finds himself smiling back at the earl. "I have time for little else."
"What a terrible waste."
"Merely a recognition that I must tend to my duties first and pleasures second."
"I will concede that," the Duke says. "But perhaps you should make time for your pleasures, to make the duties seem less onerous."
"Alas, I am still learning much. My father insists on perfection. Perhaps when I have mastered more, I can afford such time."
The Duke nods and says nothing for the rest of the dance.
"Lambert," he says, "my house name is Lambert. If you feel you can pay for time."
The duke winks at Kris as he bows, and swiftly disappears into the crowd. Kris blinks, trying to remember the last time he had been so engaged in a conversation. Then he remembers he is to dance with the Baroness del Toro, and he steels himself.
The night progresses as normal, although Kris finds himself searching for a figure in white when he lets his mind wander. When it is time for a few second dances, Kris looks for the earl, but he is gone.
Kris is almost certain that he's imagined the whole event, except the Countess Underwood informs him that she saw the Duke slip out shortly before the King and Queen's dance, as if he were late for something else.
Kris puts the Duke aside as he heads for his rooms.
"Hey, Megs," he says as he slips inside his door.
Megan says nothing for a moment. It's their ritual. Most everyone thinks that Kris and Megan are having an affair. They aren't, but they both let it slide because it gives the illusion they need.
"I heard that the Duke of Angeles made an appearance."
Kris makes a noncommittal noise as he looks into Allison's room.
"How is she?"
"She's fine, and you avoided my question. He must be cute."
Kris shrugs. "Perhaps. I have other things to worry about. Midnight?"
Kris nods once before going to his room to change. He only has a few hours.
There is a revolution to help.
"The troubadour has been very forthcoming and helpful in the past. And others have confirmed some of what he gave us tonight."
Adam looks at David and sighs. Adam is the new leader for many reasons, but sometimes he wishes David would have stepped up instead. David had been with the revolution when Adam joined, but he was content to stay second in command.
"So let's say that he isn't leading us into a trap. What then?"
Adam looks at David, and the rest of the leaders. There are five of them in the room, and Adam implicitly trusts them all.
Adam looks to the far end of the room. As always, Blake sat in the darkest corner. The professed ‘prince of thieves’ has a vested interest in keeping Cowell on the throne, yet for whatever reasons, chooses to fight to rid Dolonia of its greatest enemy. Then again, Blake is never known for doing what was expected of him.
“Do you ever speak more than two words at a time?” Carrie asks
Carrie comes with David. She is a Countess by birth, but her lands had been lost years ago to flooding and mudslides. She is still considered nobility, but her best bet for continuing in society is to marry someone with stronger land ties than her. She sticks with David, however.
“When there’s a complicated job, sometimes we do a dry run. We’ll send out our second team to scout the place, see if our information is right. Adjust timelines.”
Adam nods. “I like the idea. If the Troubadour is correct, perhaps we need to keep better tabs on him.”
David shakes his head. “No can do. He came to me, and he wants to stay hidden. I’d say he’s either on security or household staff. We can’t compromise that.”
“If the information turns out to be correct, I’d love a way to meet him. Or to let him know that if he is caught, we will gladly give him a safe haven. Even gone from the castle, someone like that would have much information we need.”
David nods. “We’ll talk about that later. Who do we send for the dry run, then? You need to remain mysterious, so I’d say Kelly would be our best bet. Sorry, dear.”
Carrie says nothing. She is used to her position being questioned, Adam supposes.
“Yes. Kelly, and perhaps a few of Blake's friends as her security detail?”
They all agree, and disperse. David hangs back for a moment.
“This troubadour. Is that the name he gave you?”
“He also goes by Allen. I don’t share that, because there may be the haze of his possible bastardy in the balance of his information.”
“Interesting. Do you think he might be a bastard child of King Neil?”
“No. If the old king was known for anything, it was his fidelity. But the name might be a symbol of his devotion to the old order. I do not know. But he is committed, whoever he is. Do you want me to give him the standard tokens?”
“Yes. We’ll need all the help we can get. Cowell is—“
“I know,” David says. “Trust me, I know.”
David leaves the room and Adam sits back down. It’s been an eventful week and he’s trying to balance the two worlds very carefully. It hasn’t been helped that he was very disarmed by the Crown Prince at the ball earlier tonight. When meeting the son of Simon Cowell, Adam had expected someone very different. Colder. Brusquer.
Not the man he had danced with tonight. It created an interesting dilemma for Adam, as he couldn’t just say ‘Hello. I think you are quite distracting. I sort of like you. By the way, I’m trying to overthrow your father.’
Adam sighs and puts it away. Tomorrow is another day.
“Kristopher, at some point, you will be King, and you must have someone to rule by your side. I do not care who it is, as long as they are of proper birth and temperament. You must understand that it gives people comfort to have two on the throne. That there’s a sense of stability," the King says.
Kris sighs inwardly. He isn’t interested in marrying. After Katy’s death, it has been the last thing on his mind.
“At least look like you are trying. Perhaps you’ll find it isn’t as hateful as you think. Pick three or four nobles. Don’t play favorites. Perhaps be a bit more personable than you usually are?”
Kris looks at his mother. He sees she is straining to please both him and his father. Kris still does not understand them, but as he had the luxury of marrying for love the first time. He knows now that he may have to marry for politics, and it kills him.
“Fine. Four you say? No favorites? What about Lady Clarkson, Countess Underwood, Duke Lambert and Marquis Mills.”
Kris has named four very different nobles, one of whom hasn’t been around for long. He’s only pulled their names because he’s at least had favorable interactions with them, but they also represent a wide spectrum of political beliefs.
“Underwood? Lambert? Two more suspect nobles if I’ve ever heard.”
“Exactly, Father. If I court them as well as the more popular, it will look as if we support them, but at the same time I can get to know them better and see exactly what they are hiding. It’s not as if they would refuse the invitation of the Crown Prince. Furthermore, if they are true nobles, it would boost our connection to them, even if I didn’t marry them. We win every way.”
Kris stomach only slightly turns at the lie. He's getting better at it, playing the political games his father loves so well.
The King blinks for a moment. “Well Kristopher, I cannot tell you how pleased I am. Surprised, but pleased. Go ahead with this. You will update me, dear?”
“As always,” the Queen replies. “Now it is time for my tea with the Lady Clarkson herself. Perhaps I could relay a message?”
Kris nods. “Let me escort you. Father.”
He nods to the King and holds out his arm. He and his mother walk slowly down the hall.
“Are you certain of this Kristopher? I do not want to push.”
“It’s past time, Mama. Allison is five now. Perhaps it may do me some good to get out of my comfort zone.”
She nods and gives him a hug. “Be careful,” she whispers in his ear. “I know some of what you are doing. What you and Daniel were doing. He… Please be careful. I cannot lose another son.”
Kris manages to hold his face until he gets to his room. Then he sits, staring at the wall. His mother knew something was going on. This should be a problem, yet somehow it signals there is more to his parent’s relationship (or lack thereof) that he isn’t aware. He puts away any thoughts and begins to write out instructions for his secretary.
Adam stares down at the letter, and then looks at Kelly and Carrie.
“Is this coincidence?”
Kelly shakes her head. “No. The conversation I had with the Queen indicates that the Prince chose a wide spectrum of nobles on purpose. The Marquis has been fairly pro-King, while I have been muted at best. Carrie is known for her connections with the old regime, and you represent the unknown. “
“This means I’ll have to show my face.”
“True, but you could develop a certain style. Something completely different from how you present yourself here. We cannot refuse,” Carrie says.
Adam stares down at the letter again. “What do we know of him?”
Kelly sits back in her chair. “Well, since I’ve been in court the longest, I suppose I know him best. He’s probably the most genuine person I’ve ever met. I have no idea where his laid back personality came from, considering how focused his father is. From what I can tell, he could possibly be an ally. Except—“
“He loves his country. He would never go for it. For the sake of continuity, he would wait out his father,” Carrie says.
Kelly nods. “He married young, but he and Katy were a fortunate love match. They were great friends as children. When she died in childbirth, I think the whole country died a little. Kris was different after that. Much more serious. Focused even. He became very distant. When Daniel disappeared last year, he became the obedient son with little difficulty. I don’t suspect him, only because he’s never shown any inclination of actually liking his father, but I do worry that his heart is too hardened now for us to make any difference.”
“Hmmm,” Adam says. “He seemed at the very least engaging.”
“Oh yes,” Kelly says. “He still is Kris, but he’s so much more closed off than I remember. But this gives us another well of information if we play it right.”
“Is there a problem?” Carrie asks. “You’ve looked worried the entire time.”
“He’s very distracting. I'm not used to political dating. I'm not sure I can do it.”
Kelly laughs. “Oh this is going to be very interesting. It is fortunate your older brother decided to leave the country after all. I’m going to be highly entertained.”
Adam sighs. “I’m not here for your entertainment. Although I could play on the kinship of having a title I did not want. Or that both our brothers left us. I hate playing someone like this. I really do.”
“Well, if he is favorable to our cause, then he’ll forgive you. If not? Well, at least he’s pretty.”
Adam puts his head in his hands, but he cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
It's closing in on his parents' wedding anniversary, so there is some sort of party at least once a week. Kris waits in the hallway for the Duke of Angeles. It is their third meeting.
Kris originally named the Duke for the very reasons he gave his father: while Lambert's birthright seemed legitimate, his inheritance of a title around the same time Daniel disappeared is odd. But after two dates, Kris…
The Duke of Angeles is a puzzle of sorts. He strikes Kris as someone who would hate the change his father brought to Dolonia, yet in all their conversations, the Duke has neutral politcally. As if testing the waters.
Plus his hesitation when he gave his name…
Kris isn't sure what to think of Adam, except that there is something fascinating about him, something that Kris is determined to know. He just doesn't know what yet.
Kris looks down the hallway. Tonight's outfit is all black, with hints of blue and purple. The mask is covered in feathers.
"Please, Adam, Kris. I beg you."
"Kris. You look wonderful."
"I knew you would go all out. I had to try and at least match you."
Adam smiles, "Of course."
Kris holds out his arm and they enter the ball together. They manage to use up all of their small talk at dinner, leaving them silent as the dances begin.
"Have they always danced like that?"
Kris looks from Adam to his parents. "Yes."
"Does it bother you, having to make a political match?"
Kris doesn't say much beyond that. This is the third time he has been with the Duke, and perhaps the most comfortable. Yet he cannot seem to open up. It had been a wonderful surprise at the end of their second meeting, lunch in one of the gardens, when their relationship had changed. They had been discussing corn.
"I hate this," Kris says. He puts a hand over his mouth, because he hadn't meant to say it aloud.
Adam blinks at him for a moment. "Me too. Perhaps I've gone about this wrong. I don't know if I am interested in being the Prince Consort, and I don't know if you really want to marry at all."
Kris turns to face Adam head on. "What are you saying?"
"I don't see any point in boring ourselves with silly conversations about politics, and where I stand on the rights of wheat farmers versus corn farmers, when none of it really matters. You obviously are courting people to make your parents happy. So why not at least make it interesting?"
Kris can't stop the smile from coming. He relaxes in his chair. "You have no idea how happy that would make me. I hate this. I have a daughter, so I don't understand why I have to get married all of a sudden. I have plenty of years to find someone to rule with."
Adam smiles back and Kris has a feeling that the Duke isn't done surprising him.
"Good. Perhaps then, you can give me all the gossip. And I can insult how they dress."
"I think I'd like that."
"Are you with me?" Adam says.
Kris shakes himself and nods once. "Sorry. I just wonder, sometimes. I worry."
"Your mother takes quite good care of herself."
"I still worry."
Adam nods. "Perhaps, but I think you are supposed to be paying attention to me."
"Trust me, I'm always paying attention to you."
Adam's grin is almost predatory. Kris finds himself growing warm under Adam's gaze, but he doesn't look away. Without any of the pretense of court rituals, Kris finds it easy to be himself. But he also knows he is being watched, so he must maintain some decorum.
"Let's dance," Adam says. "I promise to behave."
"Don't be so hasty," Kris murmurs as they walk out. "A little bit of scandal never hurt anyone."
When he and Adam walk onto the dance floor, Kris feels the change. He doesn't have to say anything to make sure he doesn't push Adam away, or insult him. It's the freedom he's been missing for a long time.
"I have to admit though, you are very distracting," Kris says.
"Oh really? Perhaps the next time I see you, Highness, we could discuss that further."
"I'd like that too."
Adam laughs and the night flies by. Kris escorts him out of the room around ten.
"You know, your babysitter would probably stay past ten."
"I know, but it gives me a convenient excuse to leave early."
"Perhaps I need to have a child. I have no such excuse."
"Yet you leave early whether you are with me or not."
"True. A little mystery never hurt anyone."
Kris turns at the door to his rooms. "Maybe I could give you a tour of the castle. Next time, that is. I'll show you the forbidden room."
Kris laughs at the look that crosses Adam's face. He's taken off the mask, and the play of emotions is amusing.
"The forbidden room?"
Kris leans forward and whispers, "The music room."
Kris realizes he is inches away from being pressed against Adam, and moves to step back. Before he does, Adam leans down and kisses Kris on the corner of his mouth.
"Too soon? That was definitely too soon. I just spent the whole of two dates trying to convince you I didn't want to court you and I—"
"Shut up," Kris says, pulling Adam back to him.
They are in full view of anyone who comes down the hallway, and Kris doesn't care. It's been so long since he has felt anything he wants to make sure he's taking this all in.
Adam pulls back first.
"Okay. Not too soon."
Kris bites his lip. "Probably should have that talk while we walk around the castle."
Adam stands there another minute before moving. Kris watches him walk down the hall. He turns to his rooms, and sees the mask on the floor. He picks it up.
When he enters his rooms, he finds Megan suspiciously close to the door.
"You keep kissing him like that, no one's going to believe you are sleeping with me anymore."
"Hush. I like him."
"Because he confuses you. Because he flips everything you do upside down. Because he's a damn good kisser."
"I can't believe you watched."
"You were the one kissing in an open hallway."
Kris sighs. "I know. I know. Don't remind me."
"Well go on and do your thing. It's close anyway, right?"
He nods. "I don't know if I'm going to get out again. I have to let them know that at least."
Kris turns to get ready.
When Daniel and he first found out about the grass-roots rebellion to overthrow the King, they had spent a long time discussing it. Kris was the first to approach them, in his disguise as a troubadour, banished from his craft. Then Daniel joined. His position as second son made it easier for him to be more involved: he wasn't watched as much.
They had a careful system in place, and everything looked good until Daniel disappeared. At first, Kris thought his father had found out. That their plans were for nothing. But the rebellion continued, but Kris had no knowledge of its inner workings anymore. All he has is his original contact and hope that they were still doing well.
"Ah, Allen. On time as always."
Kris doesn't move from the step. It's a dingy room in the middle of the city, but it is almost like another home.
"I've been instructed to tell you that the plan is set. We’re finalizing plans now."
"Good. Good. I brought the maps of all the secret tunnels I know of. Don't let these fall into the wrong hands. In fact, the less people that knew this, the better I'd feel."
Kris's contact is David. He looks familiar for some reason, but Kris cannot place it. David is all business, although Kris has the feeling that in David's case, still waters ran very deep.
"I've also been instructed to give you a way out. Our leader understands your need to be discreet, but if ever you should need shelter—"
"I'll be fine."
"If ever you should need shelter, show this token to one of the beggars. Tell them who you are, and we will protect you in every way we can."
Kris takes the offered necklace in his hand. He doesn't look at it before stuffing it in his pocket.
"Thank you. After tonight, I am not sure my cover will be safe anymore. If I can, I will come back. If not, it has been a pleasure working with you."
"What do you know of the Crown Prince?"
David looks out the window for a moment. "Other sources tell us many things. We think we can trust him not to be his father all over again, but we would like your opinion."
Kris says nothing for awhile. He hasn't even considered that the rebels would consider killing him as well.
"I do not know him well," Kris says carefully, "but I can tell you that the Crown Prince and his father are not friends, and are often at odds. That he is a man that will not love taking the crown, but do it the justice it deserves."
David nods slowly.
Kris walks out without looking back. He knows he is being followed, but he also knows that he can rid himself of the tail easily.
When he returns it is quarter of midnight.
"Early, I see," Megan says.
"Megan…I need to ask you a favor. Bigger than this."
Megan looks at him. "Just how much trouble is there going to be?"
"I don't know. But I do know this, if there is, and I can't get here in time, or if I can't get here at all, would you take Allison and hide her for awhile? I know it's a lot to ask, but—"
"Not even a question. Should we have a code word? A phrase?"
She nods. "I'm going home now. All the maids told me earlier that I should demand a raise if you are going to stop sleeping with me."
Kris laughs. "We'll see."
Kris looks in on his daughter one more time before getting ready for bed. He remembers the token in his pocket and pulls it out. It's a necklace on a simple black cord.
Kris stares at it for a long time before putting it around his neck. He runs his fingers down the single black feather and then looks at the mask lying on a table nearby.
"Lots to talk about the next time I see you," he murmurs before tucking the necklace under his shirt.
Adam has seen parts of the castle before, and he's seen enough hand drawn maps to last a lifetime.
This is much better. Kris knows stories that Adam has never heard. How his great-grandmother threw a plate of pasta at a visiting king in one dining hall, and how his cousin was conceived in another.
Mostly¸ though, it is good to see Kris relaxed. Happy almost.
The idyll of the day ends in the forbidden room.
"Did you learn to play at all?" Adam asks.
Kris's lips twitch, and Adam knows he is lying.
"Adam, I found this, on the floor."
Adam looks at the mask in Kris's hands. "Okay. Why is this so important?"
Kris sits down on a bench near the harpsichord. "I know who you are."
"I don't understand."
Kris looks around. "Do you think I didn't know what Daniel was doing? Where he was disappearing to? Who do you think first checked out the validity of it all?"
Adam swallows and sits down next to Kris. "Oh. He never mentioned you."
"He wasn't supposed to. I wasn't supposed to be involved. I'm the Crown Prince."
Adam is silent for a moment. "How did you find out?"
"Funny you should ask—"
The door crashes open.
"Kristopher, I would speak with you."
Kris nods and walks to the door.
"I'll be right back."
Adam can hear their words through the door, which has not shut properly. The King does not believe in secrets, obviously. It is an argument about the propriety of being in a room full of objects forbidden to even exist in the kingdom. Kris argues back that they are of historical value, and he was merely showing Adam the extent to which their family was trying to preserve. Adam thinks it's a pretty slick comeback. The King huffs and tells Kris that perhaps he was unwise to choose his companions. Kris says nothing, and there is silence as footsteps walk away.
"Don't be. I found it quite enlightening."
"I wish we had more time to talk."
"Me, too. Someday you could tell me why exactly your parents married."
"Perhaps I would be the better person to ask. I suppose my husband already came and left?"
Kris and Adam turn to see the Queen.
"Yes, your Majesty."
"What a nice boy you are. Is your mother still well?"
"I hope to see her again soon."
"I had no idea you even knew her."
"No, I suppose not."
The Queen looks down the hall for a moment, as if deciding something. "Let's go in here for a moment. There are things to be said."
Adam looks at Kris, confused, but they both follow her.
"You know what I love best about this room?"
"No, Mama, I don't."
The Queen walks to a wall and knocks on it. There is a muffled thump. "Soundproofed. This was the best room to avoid spies. I suppose that's the real reason Simon hates it."
"Shh. I need to know one thing. Can you trust him with whatever you are involved in, Kristopher?"
Adam sits. Of all the things he was expecting today, a complete turnaround on everything he had assumed was not it.
"You can trust him, Mama."
"Good. I'm assuming there is a plan in place?"
"I don't need details. I've been waiting for this day for twenty-four years. I should have had the courage to go on my own, but when Simon came along. One day I'll tell you everything, but I had no choice. I couldn't risk not marrying him. His political base was too strong then. And then it all went to hell, and it was all my fault. And now his base is so much stronger."
"Your Majesty, you've done so much good, you—"
"Thank you Adam, but it still weighs on me. What I did."
"Mama, I don't understand, what's this about?"
The Queen looks down at her hands.
"I made Daniel disappear. Don't ask where he is; only know that he is alive. Simon got to him. Daniel had the best intentions, but he had a duty to his father. Or so he felt. He's now quietly contemplating his duplicity with the monks. I asked them to take him to a secret location, until you gained the crown. Then things could be safe."
Adam feels Kris's hand tighten on top of his.
"Daniel was going to tell, wasn't he?" Kris asks.
"He was. He came to believe it was treason. He came to me first, luckily. I was faced with a choice. Daniel is a good boy, down deep, but he is still Simon's son," The Queen says.
"So am I," Kris says, not looking at his mother. "What makes me different?"
The Queen says nothing for a moment.
"I've been waiting for twenty-four years, hoping. And you turned into everything I hoped you'd be."
"Mama. We don't have time. What aren't you telling me?"
"I may have left out some convenient math when you were born."
Adam's mouth drops. He cannot contain it. Kris still looks confused, but there is a dawning in his eyes that cannot be mistaken.
"You are not his son."
There is mass confusion for a moment. The Queen puts a hand to her mouth before putting herself in between the King and Kris. She turns to Kris for a brief moment.
"Run. For me."
Adam grabs his hand and pulls him out of the room, despite any protests.
"Adam, I just can't leave her!"
"She sacrificed twenty-four years of her life for you. The least you can do is honor her wishes."
Kris stops in the hallway. Adam watches the emotions play over his face in the space of seconds for becoming completely calm. He nods once, looking briefly down the hall they just came from.
"I can't go to my rooms. They'll be waiting. I have to leave now. Damn it. Can you go to my rooms, and tell Megan it's time? She'll know what I mean."
"I'm coming with you."
Kris shakes his head. "You can't. You have to go back, tell him you were confused and I ran away from you. That you are on his side."
It's Adam's turn to consider, and as much as he hates it, Kris is right.
"That’s…that's terrible and perfect. You going to be okay?"
Kris grins and pulls a necklace from his shirt. Adam stares at it.
"I'll be fine."
Adam watches Kris disappear around the corner. He has no idea what's going to happen next, only that the plan has completely changed. He looks back to the music room, and figures he has a few more minutes to spare.
Kris leans over the lute, tuning it carefully. He's learned to play on his own, in the few quiet moments he has before his contact appears.
Now, it's mostly to distract himself from his thoughts. From worrying about Allison to realizing exactly what his mother had done all those years ago. About what will happen next.
"I heard something happened at the palace, so I thought I'd check here today."
Kris looks up at David. In another time or circumstance, the surprise on David's face would have amused Kris. Now it's just another obstacle, as David pulls out his sword and levels it at Kris's chest.
"Tell me why I shouldn't run you through right now."
Kris pulls the necklace from under his shirt. "Because you promised me shelter."
"How do I know you didn't torture the information out of the true informant?"
"Why would I do that?"
David says nothing.
"Look, I don't know how to prove to you I am the same man who has come here before. I could probably recollect all of our conversations, but I've had a long day. Just take me to Adam, or wherever Adam will be."
"Pretty stupid to use a necklace with the same feather he uses in a costume."
"I don't know if I can trust another son of Simon Cowell."
Kris didn't know Simon had another son. Besides Daniel.
"That's okay," he grins. "I'm not Simon's son."
"Yeah. That's why I'm here. To regroup before figuring out what to do next."
"Well then. We'll have to take the long way. Can't have you seen."
"I have all the time in the world."
David sheaths the sword. "You'll understand if I at least keep my knife out?"
"Absolutely, as long as you understand I won't hesitate to turn it on you if need be."
David nods once, and walks out the door. Kris follows. He keeps his head down, but he realizes that no one sees him, because they don't expect to. There's a certain freedom in that.
Kris says a quick prayer for his daughter, and puts her aside as the day grows dark.
"Are you still here, your Grace? Did you not manage to keep a hold of the Prince?"
"No, your Majesty. I must apologize for running, but instinct took over. By the time I realized what was happening, Kristopher had abandoned me, and I realized I had been duped."
Adam hopes his face is forlorn. Or at least worried looking.
"I see," the King says. "My wife begged for his life, after telling me the whole sordid story of why she deceived me."
"And what is to become of her?"
"Nothing. She has no power. What can she do?"
"Of course," Adam knows that Simon would keep the Queen around. He had no choice, as she was the only link to the proper line to the throne.
"What can I do for you?"
Adam doesn't look away as Simon stares him down.
"What about Kristopher?"
"You are my King. He abandoned whatever ties he has."
Simon nods once. "Good. First, tell no one of this. We will simply say the Prince has disappeared as well. If he chooses to come back and obey me, then things will go on. If not, I have another son. He may yet prove himself to me. Then there is Allison. She is young enough to know better than to cross me."
"Of course, your Majesty."
"Second, perhaps you and I could talk further on politics. I'm interested to hear your thoughts."
"Remember, if anyone asks what happened today, the Queen had a fainting spell. That was the commotion."
Adam nods once, and the King waves him away.
Walking down the hall, he knows he has to delay any return to headquarters. Simon will have him followed carefully.
It is a long night for Kris. No one has any word on Allison, and Adam hasn't returned to vouch for him. He can't sleep for everything he now knows, and for everything he needs to.
He's under guard at what seems to be a non-descript house next to a blacksmith. The noise makes for a convenient cover, he supposes.
Kris has only seen David, and the two unnamed men outside of his door. He knows there are more: Daniel had told him of a small council. A committee of leaders, planning how to deal with both Simon and all the men he had brought in his initial take over. The ones he had politically browbeaten since.
Kris sleeps fitfully, waking only at the quiet knock on his door.
"Adam is here," David says. "And someone named Megan."
"Her too," David smiles. "We're going to have a meeting after breakfast. There are some clothes that should fit you in the baths. Don't be too long."
Kris gives a cursory wash to all the important parts, not even bothering to shave. His daughter is safe. All else is nothing.
"Daddy! Daddy! Look at the ribbon I have for my hair!"
Kris kneels to catch Allison as she runs to him. He squeezes a little tighter than normal. He pulls back and takes a look.
"Purple and pink? Wow. I don't know, Alli, that's pretty wild."
"Can I keep it just this once?"
"Just this once? As if I didn't let you wear that bright green dress to the Baroness del Toro's formal tea party."
Alli laughs at him. "You're silly Daddy. We're having eggs and bacon and toast for breakfast. Adam says we weren't allowed to eat 'til you got here, but Miss Megan gave me a bit of toast earlier. Is that okay?"
Kris looks at Adam, who is watching with a smile on his face.
"I don't know. Maybe we'll charge her with treason after I have something in my belly."
Allison giggles and pulls him to the table.
"So any, ah, political discussion can wait until certain ears aren't in the room, okay?" Kris says.
"Fine by me," David says, pulling up a chair. "I believe you know Carrie."
"Kris. Here I'm just Kris."
"Kris," Carrie says. "Lady Clarkson sends her regards, but she did have an engagement with you today, and she must act as if she is going to keep it."
Kris blinks. "I pick four people at random, and three of them are rebels?"
"Trust me, we wondered, too. But given my, ah lack of income, and Adam's unusual inheritance, we weren't surprised at all."
"You know, if I trusted you less, I would accuse you of using me," Kris says to Adam.
"Good thing you trust me."
"Good thing he's an excellent kisser, you mean," Megan says.
The whole room focuses on Kris and Adam for a moment.
"I can attest to that personally," Kris says. "But I don't suppose we could you know, focus?"
Kris looks to the end of the table. The man looks vaguely familiar, but Kris can't place him.
"You can call me Blake. Head of the thieves' council."
"I've seen you begging near the soup kitchen."
Blake nods. "Yes. I'm in charge of them too."
Kris looks around the table. "So I see the nobility, the spurious nobility, and the criminals represented. Surely you have someone from the commoners?"
Megan clears her throat.
"Don't look so shocked, Kris. While I may have it pretty easy as the nanny to the royals, the only reason I got that job was because of my son. If not for that, I don't know where I'd be. I got this gig because I was your nanny. They wanted a read on you."
"And yet you failed to tell us—" Adam says.
Megan sighs. "I confirmed the information that I could. It's a delicate balance. I was trying to protect Allison, really."
"Daddy, what are all of you talking about?" Allison asks.
Kris looks at David.
"The one we're organizing to raise funds for the soup kitchen? Maybe help sick kids?"
"Oh. That archery tournament."
"Why are we meeting here instead of the castle," Allison asks.
"Smart kid you got there, Kris," Blake says.
"Thanks. Well, Alli, I figured we needed a bit of a vacation. Plus your granddad was feeling pretty grumpy yesterday."
"He's always grumpy."
"Well, yes. But yesterday especially."
"Okay. What's the prize for winning?"
"I don't know yet. Maybe you can think of one."
Allison nods and her face becomes serious in thought.
"Hope everyone likes ponies. And purple," Kris says.
Everyone laughs, and breakfast is spent planning an archery tournament for charity. It's a welcome distraction, for the moment. After the dishes are cleared, Carrie speaks.
"How about Allison and I go downstairs and find her some clothes to wear, since she left everything at home? David can fill me in."
Kris looks at David, then at Adam. Then he turns to Carrie.
"Okay. Don't leave the building. Please. I trust you, but I need her nearby."
Carrie nods. "Ok. And David? You should tell them."
David sighs and says nothing as Carrie leads Allison out of the room.
"So where do we start?" Adam says.
"Well, it might help if I knew exactly what the plan was," Kris says.
"We were going to make him and his supporters disappear at your birthday ball. You would be around too many witnesses to be suspect of anything in the week beforehand. But I know that won't work now."
"You talked with him, didn't you?"
"I told you it wouldn't be enough," David says.
"You wouldn't give any evidence why."
David looks down at the table, then at Kris. "I have five years on you, and then ten more of letters and isolated visits to know the breadth of him. I know what it's like to think some part of you must be evil because he is too. But my mother found a safe haven, with the thieves, and I've spent the last fourteen years trying to figure out how to rid my country of him, even if it meant losing any claims to his fortune. I don't want it."
"David, are you—"
"Simon Cowell is my father. I have no proof except my memories of him, and a few vaguely written letters. My mother's word. He's been trying to find me ever since Daniel disappeared. I suppose to replace you, if you continued to stymie him the way you have. But I am no more his tool than you."
"You know, it would be really nice, as the elected leader of this group, if people told me things," Adam says. "Any other things I should know? Are you hiding a title somewhere Blake? Or an allegiance to Anwith that I'm not aware of? I'm the second son of a minor Duke, all this political intrigue gives me a headache."
Kris pats Adam's hand on top of the table. "You get used to it. The headache that is. The political intrigue will always annoy you."
"So, we need a new plan, then."
The table is silent.
"Wait. I have another question," Kris says. "You still have whoever you have in place to take out all of Simon's followers?"
Blake nods. "If nothing else, we decrease his political clout."
Kris stands and begins to walk the room.
"That's the key. He can say all he wants; I am still the Crown Prince of Dolonia. It's only all of his thugs that held my mother's hands all these years. If she felt for one minute that he was powerless—"
"But how? We can't make him disappear. It has to be public. If there is even a shadow of a doubt—" David says.
"I know. The public has to see him gone. But it is my birthday soon."
"You can't," Adam says.
"I can and I will. One of you three indicates that I've sought asylum. That I wish to return to Simon's good graces, and will do so at my birthday. But I don't appear with them, in fact, I come late, and with someone else. I distract him for awhile, and then—"
"A signal. We need an indication that his power is gone," Adam says.
"I come in," David says. "I come in and confront him. While I have him occupied, you let your mother know what you have done. Then it's over."
"He won't go without a fight," Kris says.
"And what about Allison?" Megan says. "What about her archery tournament?"
"I'll tell Allison as much of the truth as I can. And we'll have the archery tournament after, if all goes well."
"And if it doesn't?"
"Then I trust one of you to kindly keep her out of Cowell's hands, if I should be taken. And perhaps find a way to give my mother sanctuary until he is dead. There is no way that does not involve risking myself."
Kris looks to the doorway, can hear his daughter's laughter faintly. He can't imagine what it would do to her if he was gone. But he also doesn't want to imagine a world where she has to be under Simon's thumb, where everything is turned into dust and emptiness. Where perfection is required and never achieved.
"If we are going to do this, we have to decide now," Kris says. "It's only four days until my birthday."
"I'm in," Adam says. "But only if I get to be the one who escorts you to the ball. I want to see Simon's face when he's triple crossed."
"I'm in," David says. "As long as you promise not to try and give me a stupid title afterwards."
"I'm in. I already promised the murderers a blood bath, why would I back out now?" Blake says.
"I guess I'm stuck here watching Allison," Megan says.
"No. I need you to warn the other household staff. To catch any loose ends there," Kris says. "As long as you put those two goons you had on me last night with her, I'll feel safe leaving her here."
"I'm in then. Can you speak for Carrie?"
"I can go take over with Allison so you can tell her," Megan says.
"I probably should get the ball rolling on a mass killing. You sure you approve of this?" Blake asks.
"Are you certain that they are Simon's people?" Kris says. "And by sure, I mean absolutely no questions?"
"Then yes, I wholly approve." Kris looks around the table. "Sorry for taking over."
"You want to be in charge of this insanity? Be my guest," Adam says. "Can I pick your outfit?"
Adam reaches for Kris's hand and squeezes it. "We never did have that talk."
"Maybe if we live through this. Plenty of time."
"I'll hold you to it. I have to go convince your stepfather I actually agree with his politics. I may not be able to make it back. Have Carrie approve our outfits okay?"
Adam stands to leave, but turns back to the table. Kris can tell there is something he wants to say, but Adam settles for squeezing his shoulder before walking out. Kris sits back and tries to figure out just what he's going to tell his daughter about all of this. How he feels himself about this.
Adam watches the activity in the empty warehouse with a detached tiredness. He hasn't been able to get away from Simon's tails for the last three days, so he has almost no idea what has been going on. Except for what little Kelly was able to tell him in a brief encounter at the castle.
Tomorrow is the day. Adam feels as if it's all a blur, from the moment he first walked down the stairs to meet Kris to watching him practice swordplay against David.
"You haven't been here."
Adam looks at Allison, who blinks at him, her face completely serious.
"No. I couldn't get away."
"My daddy likes you. He said so. Said you were a friend. But my granddad says I have to watch out for anyone but me."
"And who do you believe?"
Allison shrugs. "My daddy wouldn't lie to me about that."
Adam smiles. "Good choice."
Allison leans her head to side for a moment. Then she holds out her arms, and Adam picks her up without thinking. She's not too heavy, and she manages to make herself comfortable.
"I suppose you're okay. How do you feel about ponies?"
"They're a little small for me to ride."
Allison giggles. "No, for me. If I asked for a pony, would you give it to me?"
"Would you take care of the pony?"
Allison sighs. "That's what daddy says."
Adam laughs. "Sorry kid, I'm not taking care of a pony for you. However, I can talk clothes all day."
Allison's face brightens. "Deal. I like pink and purple."
"I'm partial to blue and green, but any color is better than none."
""Abandoned me for another lap? I'm wounded," Kris says, walking up to them.
"He talks clothes, daddy. But he won't let me have a pony unless I take care of it."
"The horror. Do you think we should keep him around?"
Allison looks up at Adam. "Sure. Is it really my bedtime already?"
"Yes," Kris says. "Say goodnight and I'll tuck you in."
Adam is surprised when Allison hugs him and gives him a kiss on the cheek.
"Night Adam. Maybe tomorrow you'll think about giving me a pony?"
"Maybe. But unlikely."
Allison heaves a big sigh and takes her father's hand. Adam is content to watch everything else until Kris returns.
"She's something else," Adam says when Kris sits next to him.
"You should see her in court. My father—I mean Simon—hates it."
"Still haven't wrapped your head around that one, have you?"
Kris shakes his head. "But the more I look at portraits of my real father, I wonder how he didn't at least suspect it."
Adam shrugs. "People will believe a lot of things when they want to. Are you ready for tomorrow?"
"No, but I do what I must."
"So speaks a Prince of Dolonia."
Kris laughs and shakes his head. "You know my reasons for being here, but I've always wondered how the second son of a minor Duke ends up as leader of the revolution."
"Ah. Well, it started with the music. I had trained my whole life as a singer, when at the tender age of sixteen, the King decides any music he does not control is against the law. Imagine my devastation and anger. So I put all the machinations I learned in the theater to use in the revolution. I may be a minor Duke, but my plans have been very good. So when Daniel disappeared…"
"I see. You sing still?"
"When I can."
"Perhaps I could accompany you someday."
"You said you didn't play," Adam accuses.
"I said I didn't play harpsichord. I said nothing of the lute," Kris says.
"Why not now?"
"You can take the lute elsewhere."
Kris gives him a long silent look.
"I promise I have no designs on your virtue. At least this very minute."
Kris stands, now watching the swordplay across the room. He looks back at Adam.
"Who said I was virtuous?"
Kris walks away. Adam follows without a word. With lute in hand, they both walk silently to Adam's room.
"Do you have actual music or do I have to improvise?"
"Sorry, I don't try to advertise my law-breaking."
Kris sits on the edge of the bed and strums lightly. He spends a moment tuning, carefully listening to each string. He then plays a quick warm-up, hands slowly stretching, then running through the notes faster each time, until his hands are almost a blur.
Adam bites his lip. He can't look away, but he knows he should. Now is definitely not the time for distractions.
"Do you know 'Falling Star?'" Adam asks.
It's one of the most popular ballads, even though it is heartbreaking.
Kris grins and plays the opening chords, Adam waits and sings clearly. He tends for the upper range, taking the verse of the fallen star, lost in the new world. Kris joins him on the second verse, his light tenor blending perfectly.
"First law I'm revoking," Kris says thickly when they are finished. "Well after a few minor details."
"Good. If this doesn't work, we could go across the border and be traveling bards. Does Allison sing?"
"I cannot answer."
"That means yes."
Kris laughs openly. Adam realizes that somehow he's fallen in love in the few short weeks he's known the Prince, and that it's very dangerous to be near him right now.
"It's late," he says. "Tomorrow's a big day."
"Yes," Kris gets up. He leans the lute in the corner. "I'll be back for that."
He turns back to the room. He stands in the doorway for awhile.
Kris pauses. "What?"
Adam gets up and takes Kris's hand in his own. "Stay."
Kris's breathing stutters a moment. "Why?"
Adam brings Kris's hand to his lips.
"I think you know why."
"What reasonable objection can you give me? Do you care what people think?"
Kris shakes his head.
Kris looks up at Adam, his eyes wide and vulnerable. "I need more than that."
Kris doesn't blink at all. "As crazy as it sounds, I love you. All I know of you is that you love music, you'll do anything for your friends, you treat my daughter like a human, and you look at me like I'm a feast to be savored and eaten slowly."
"I do not."
"Perhaps if you stopped looking at me the same way, I'd stop looking at you like that."
Kris blushes, but he doesn't look away.
"You're devoted to your country. You love your mother and daughter with great passion. You love music. And I'm terribly in love with you, despite your terrible fashion."
"At least I don't think feathers are a daily accessory."
"I also think there are more colors than black. Stay."
Adam leans down, his lips a whisper away from Kris's.
"What about tomorrow?"
"All the more reason."
"I thought we needed rest."
"Ball isn't until tomorrow night. Stay."
"Demanding, aren't you?"
"You have no idea."
Kris laughs before pulling Adam down to him.
"Everyone always wears dark colors, always. If we wear white, we'll be more visible. Plus blood shows better, if Simon were to decide to attack."
Kris looks at Adam, whose face is completely serious.
"Just put it on, Kris."
"That's because it doubles as a light armor. It won't prevent injuries, but it'll deflect most things."
"Thinking ahead," Kris says.
Adam shrugs and turns to his own outfit. Kris watches him dress, slightly horrified at the marks he's put on Adam's body. There's a certain sense of pride too.
"If you keep looking at me like that, we'll miss the revolution entirely."
"I told you I should have gone back to my own rooms."
"Oh please, like you really argued for that."
Kris pretends to look wounded until Adam laughs. It's nice to pretend for a moment that they aren't risking their lives tonight.
"So I was thinking," Kris says as he dresses, "maybe we should consider the traveling bard thing after all."
"It's a nice fantasy though. Maybe we'll find Daniel on our travels. He can be King."
"You wouldn't leave here unless you absolutely had to."
Kris sighs. "You're right. Scared?"
Adam looks at him and sits down on the bed. "More than you know. There are so many things that can go wrong tonight, just thinking about them gives me a headache. But this is the best chance we have, save waiting for Simon to die a natural death."
"I hate that the first thing we will do as a new court is to condemn someone to death. I just wish it could be different."
Adam says nothing before squeezing Kris's hand. Kris looks in on Allison one more time, but does not say goodbye. He has already tucked her in and said I love you; he'll be back later to make sure she is still sleeping. He looks at the guards outside her door, two of Blake's best men.
"Remember, if anything goes wrong—"
The one on the left nods. "We know. She'll be taken care of."
It's the best Kris can do, and he puts his worries about Allison away as he gets into the carriage.
He watches the city silently, his hand laced with Adam's. He's trying to remember everything he wants to say tonight, but it seems to be slipping away with nerves and anticipation.
The hall to the ballroom is empty except for the guards double checking invitations. There is slight surprise when they see Kris.
Kris puts a hand on Adam's arm before they walk through the door.
"I suppose if I asked you to try and stay out of harm's way, you would probably laugh at me, right?"
"Probably," Adam says. "Though, I have to admit, it's hot when you are protective."
"You think it's hot when I brush my hair."
"Point. But I appreciate the gesture nonetheless. I'd ask the same of you, but it would be just as pointless. So maybe just don't do anything too rash?"
Kris takes Adam's face in his hand and kisses him until he hears one of the guards clearing his throat.
"Okay," Kris says. "Let's do this."
Adam puts his arm through Kris's and they walk into the room.
"Say it like it says on the card," Kris murmurs to Ryan, who shrugs, and turns to the room.
"His Royal Highness, Kristopher Neil Allen, Crown Prince of Dolonia, and his escort, His Grace, Adam Mitchell Lambert, Duke of Angeles!"
The thunderous look on Simon's face, a combination of fury and shock, is enough to make Kris want to jump.
"Slowly," Adam whispers. "We have to draw attention to us."
Kris restrains himself, his eyes never leaving Simon and his mother. He and Adam walk over to the dais where they sit. Kris hears a 'nice entrance' from Kelly as he passes her, and then he is there.
"Your Majesties," he bows his head carefully.
Adam gives a deeper bow, his hand never leaving Kris's arm.
"Late to your own birthday ball?" Simon asks.
"Had to make sure I was dressed just right."
"And when did you start becoming concerned with that?"
Kris shrugs, his heart beating in his throat. "Adam made me realize I needed to present myself better. After all, I am the Crown Prince. I represent our whole country."
"I see. And the last five days?"
"Ah," Kris says, and he pulls Adam close. "Time got away from me?"
"Time. Got. Away. From. You."
Adam is shaking, and Kris knows he is holding back laughter. Kris hasn't felt this free around Simon since he was about five and dumped mud all over Simon's dog. He's been trying to measure up to Simon his whole life, and now it doesn't matter anymore.
"Well, you know," Kris says, shifting his head towards Adam. "But I'm focused now, and ready to continue my work."
Kris looks at his mother and winks. She gives him a ghost of a smile, and he knows she's okay.
"Kristopher, are you even paying attention to me?"
"Of course, your Majesty," Kris says solemnly.
"Good. Because your actions the last week have reflected badly on you. Anyone who abandons their post, I'm not sure you are ready to be King, if ever."
Kris smiles, and Simon's face grows darker. "Do you even understand the implications of what I am saying?"
"I'm not sure you understand, Simon," Kris says carefully.
"Excuse me?" Simon stands.
Kris lets go of Adam for a moment, giving his arm a squeeze.
"I said, I don't think you understand."
"I meant what you called me. Although I'd love to hear what you think I don't understand."
"I never thought you'd ask."
Simon looks around the room for a moment, and there is a dawning horror on his face. Kris relishes it for a moment before pushing ahead.
"See, as far as I can tell, I can call you one of two things: your Majesty, which sort of disgusts me, considering, or Simon. So I'm choosing Simon."
"How dare you address your father so!"
Kris mentally thanks Kelly for that interjection. They hadn't planned it.
"He's not my father."
The room goes completely silent.
"Lies. Horrible, baseless lies. I suppose that's what I get for letting—"
"Don't you dare call my son a liar, you bastard."
Simon turns to Kim, whose face is flushed with anger. Kris steps forward, ready to defend his mother.
"I told you—"
"Her Grace, Carrie Marie Underwood, Countess of Checotah, and her escort, David Roland Cook!"
Simon turns away from the Queen and to the stairs. His smile, if Kris could describe it, is decidedly evil.
Kris looks at his mother, who quietly steps back and off the dais. Kris watches Kelly intercept her before turning to David and Carrie, who have just reached the thrones.
"David. So nice to see you."
There is an audible shift in the room. There's a part of Kris that is enjoying the dramatic action, and a part that just wants it all over.
"So you finally accept me?"
David laughs then, and Simon's face returns to its previous anger.
"I can't deny you, but I'm just here to convey a message," David turns to Kris. "Blake says it is as done as it can be. It's up to you now."
He turns back to Simon. "I'd punch you, but honestly, you aren't worth the effort."
David gives Kris a short bow, takes Carrie's arm and disappears into the crowd.
"What is going on here?"
Kris lets out a breath. "Simon, Simon, Simon. See the thing you aren't understanding is, you have no power here. You tell me that I may never be King, and yet I laugh."
"I'm not finished," Kris steps forward, pushing Simon to sit on the throne. Kris finally feels like the Crown Prince now: he's given orders, and they've been followed. "You may be King, but it is only by my mother's grace. And I believe that ran out a long time ago. As Crown Prince of Dolonia, it is my duty to protect my country, and I've chosen to protect it from you."
"You don't have the political backing. I will ruin you."
Kris lets out a short laugh. "David, did Blake happen to drop any of the King's cohorts off here?"
Simon's eyes go a bit wild when palace guards enter the room, escorting two of the 'Dukes' he has put in power.
"I, Kristopher Neil Allen, charge you with treason against the crown. I order you arrested and held until you are tried."
"You can't prove a thing. No one will testify."
"I will," several voices speak up. Kris suppresses an inward cheer.
"Damn you," Simon springs up a knife in his hand.
Kris feels the impact and avoids hitting his head only because Adam catches him.
"Perfectly fine. Good call on the armor. Think I should pretend to be injured, or have I piled enough on him today?"
Adam smiles and kisses him on the forehead. "I love you."
"Okay. Love you too."
Adam helps him up, and Simon stares at him in confusion from his position on the floor. A combination of nobles and guards are holding him down.
"Is my mother near?"
"I'm right here, Kristopher."
Kris steps into the crowd and holds her for a long time. "May I speak for the crown?"
Kris steps up to the dais again.
"Sorry for hijacking the ball, everyone, but it is my birthday. As I speak for the Queen, there are a few more things that need to be taken care of before we can continue the party. First, a title to give out. There's a woman who helped this revolution without knowing it. So please let it be known that Beth Foraker, once a cook to the Lord Cowell, now inherits his title."
Kris looks at David. "I didn't give you a title. At least not directly. Promise kept. Now I don't have to watch you and Carrie moon over each other and not get married because it's inappropriate. No tragic love stories for me, thank you."
David shakes his head. "Sneaky. I'm not sure this kingdom is ready for you."
"Good. My second act is to reverse any and all laws that Simon put on the record. Especially the one about music. That one's for you Adam, love."
Adam preens a little before the attention, and settles on taking the Queen's arm. She pulls him close. Kris hears a strangled noise behind him.
"Oh, you," he says. "I almost forgot about you."
Kris knew the slight was worse than anything else he had said to Simon that night.
"I also hereby strip Simon Cowell of any titles, and command that he be held for an indefinite time before I find him in his jail cell, killed by someone that I will admire but never seem to find. Or something like that. Take him out of my sight."
Kris watches Simon disappear. "Now we can party. Let there be music, of any kind. It's my birthday, do as you will."
The musicians start, and the crowd begins to celebrate. There are no formal dances, just a mass of bodies, moving.
"Hey, mama," Kris says. "Surprise."
"That was a good one," she says. "Now tell me about this young man."
"This is Adam. I'm pretty much head over heels for him."
Kim turns to Adam and looks him up and down. "And what do you have to say about that?"
"Pretty much the same. Despite his taste in clothes."
Kim laughs. "I like you. I approve, as if that ever really mattered."
"It does, Mama. You think we'll find Daniel?"
"I don't know. I'm sure the monks will turn up soon. Whether Daniel has changed remains to be seen. I hope."
He hugs her again.
"Maybe someday, you'll tell me about my real father?"
The Queen nods and leans her head into Kris's shoulder.
"No offense, your Majesty, your Highness, but would it be impolite to ask for a dance from Kris right now?"
Kris breaks away from his mom and turns to Adam.
"You? Inappropriate? Never."
"You two boys have fun. I think I'll just sit and watch."
Kris waits for his mother to sit down before pulling Adam onto the dance floor.
"Well now what?"
"I don't know," Adam says. "A few dances now. In the morning we try and start to find your brother. After that? I'll try and con you into marrying me so you can't escape."
Kris puts his head against Adam's shoulder. "Maybe we should just get married now and avoid all that trouble."
Kris laughs and pulls away. He looks around the room. His mother is smiling for the first time in years. Kelly has pulled one of the stone-faced guards into the crowd to dance and they are both laughing. Carrie and David are in a corner, whispering, secret smiles on their faces. Kris looks back at Adam.
"You know, the first time I saw you, I knew nothing would ever be the same."
Adam grins. "Well how do you feel about it?"
Kris looks around again, and realizes that he has no idea what tomorrow will be like. What the next week would bring. It's kind of frightening, but at the same time, he has Alli, he has Adam, and he has his mother. That's all he needs.
"Why don't I show you?" he says, and pulls Adam in for a kiss.
All in all, it is an excellent birthday.