James looked out over the court, his cold, blue eyes taking in all. He shifted slightly as he watched the strangers enter the throne room. His queen sat upon the throne, her stoic frown permanently in place, which made the corner of his mouth twitch. Some might think she was displeased, but James knew she wasn't; she was calculating. She reached up a hand, holding it out to the foreign lord, who strode forward, taking her fingers gently in his grasp. He gently kissed her rings, his blue eyes taking in the silver haired woman with a soft smile.
"Lord Mallory," the queen said, her tone aloof as she gently pulled back her hand. "We are pleased to see you have found your way, safely into our halls."
"My queen," Mallory bowed lightly, smiling at the older woman charmingly. "You are as beautiful as they say."
"Really?" The queen asked in disbelief, her facade of ice breaking for a moment before she regained her cold demeanor. "Surely, such tales may have been true. Once. However, I'm not so unaware of reality as to have missed the fact that time has taken its toll upon me." James' features tightened, his eyes focusing in on the exchange in surprise. His queen rarely broke her cold facade, and never to a new acquaintance. He focused more closely on the visiting lord, taking note of how the man gave the woman a coy grin in return.
"Then, if you are insinuating that your beauty has diminished, I am glad I had not the pleasure of visiting your court in my youth. I'm afraid I would have been enthralled."
"Are you suggesting you're not enthralled now?" The queen asked coolly, her eyes alight as dancing sapphires.
"You give me pause," Lord Mallory bowed again. "I'm finding myself more enchanted by the moment. Should I be concerned?" The flirtations were expected, though James found it unsettling how welcoming the looks of his queen were to the foreigner.
"What do you think?" Alec's voice called to James softly, as the dark clad rogue came up to stand beside James on the balcony that overlooked the proceedings. James titled his head toward the man in acknowledgement, but he said nothing. Alec chuckled, slapping a hand over James' shoulder. James held back a growl, instead keeping his eyes on the movements around the room.
"I think M knows what she's doing," James said, using his Magi Queen's offered name. Alec had long suspected James knew the Magi Queens birth name, but he had never pried it from his fellow agent. Even now, he raised a curious brow to his companion, to which James replied by rolling his eyes.
"Her Majesty is drawing in her defenses," Alec hummed, leaning over the balcony as he watched the foreign lord's charms being received with a amusement by their lady. "Do you think he'll make her happy?"
"For his sake, he better hope he's up to the task," James said. His eyes focusing down on the scene bellow as Lord Mallory gestured to one of his companions who was kneeling before them. James caught the introduction the Lord made for his ward. When M rose from her throne, stepping past the Lord, James straightened. Unconsciously, the agent's hand slid down to the hilt of a hidden dagger about his waist as he watched his white garbed queen, ever elegant and poised, descend the few steps of the raised throne. Alec straightened as well, his fingers twitching to reach for the crossbow slung over his shoulder.
Their silver haired queen did not leave her dais to greet another.
"I have been expecting you," M said, raising a hand to the five men kneeling before her. To James' surprise, of the five, the smallest man rose to stand before his queen. The lad was younger than any of the others who had accompanied Lord Mallory. He was dressed in a riding coat, vest, breaches and gloves. His brown mop of curls hung unruly about a face. Deep brown eyes were framed behind thick glasses.
"Ma'am," The man said, giving an incline of his head. The room as a collective drew in breath. Alec's eyes bulged and James blinked several times at the disrespectful greeting. The Ward was not adverting his eyes, and the greeting was not one even James would use unless in the most privet of conversations. Even then, as far as he knew, she only just tolerated such insolence from him. What grace she allowed on his account was only due to their history together. That, and his long and faithful term in her service. M's mouth held a stiff frown, but James could see her eyes dancing with unnatural light as the thin, pale skinned man took her offered hand, dropping a kiss to her knuckles.
"Am I your mother?" M asked the lad, who seemed utterly confused, his head dipping slightly.
"N-no?" His words came out as near a question as a statement. The young man shot a glance past M, his brown eyes falling to his Lord searching for an answer. Mallory gave a slight shake of his head.
"Am I you're nursemaid?" She clarified, shifting tactics slightly.
"No," He said again, this time more firmly. He straightened, rolling his shoulders back, though she still held his hand firmly in hers. James found himself leaning over the balcony, a smile pulling at his lips as he waited for his queen's proverbial killing stroke.
"Then I am not 'Ma'am' to you," M said, even as the Ward looked exceedingly confused. "You may call me Majesty, Your Grace, or Magi Queen of the North," She said, as she watched the young man's chastised expression. "I'd prefer it, however, if you'd call me M." Once more everyone's breath managed to draw in again with another collective gasp. The courtiers instantly stepped back, astonished that their queen would grant permission for the stranger to use her offered name. Somehow the young man who stood before her was oblivious to all of this, his eyes focused solely on M.
Then M smiled.
James eyes bulged, Alec gapping next to him as everyone in the room shared a dumbfounded expression. "Yes, forgive me, Majesty. M." The lad said, somehow oblivious to the courtesy he'd been given. Not only had she granted him permission to use her offered name, but she had gifted the man her smile. The lad gave a shy, half cocked grin, and James about fell from his angled perch above them all as he watched M embrace the young man in a warm hug.
"What the bloody hell is this?!" James murmured under his breath in disbelief.
"And, what shall I call you?" M asked as she pulled back.
"I am called Q," The man smiled softly back at M, and James watched as some of the more delicate ladies of the room feinted away.
"A bloody wizard!" Alec hissed, grasping a heavy hand about James' shoulder when the man used an offered name. "How'd we not know that he had a bloody, fucking wizard in his troupe?! Damn 003 for doing such a half assed job!"
"Well, Q," M said, turning gracefully as she extended a hand toward the Lord who looked pleased as punch when he accepted her graces' hand in his own, "Lord Gareth Mallory, I would like show you something."
"I'll tail them," Alec said, patting James' shoulder.
"I've got it," James said, carefully sidestepping the other agent.
"Yeah, I know you do," Alec chuckled, giving the man a wink, but quickly stepping into pace with the blond agent. "But it's not every day you see M smile."
"You imply you've seen her smile before," James said as they made their way over to one of the windows and opened the paned glass. James slipped out first, Alec following behind him.
"Have you?" Alec asked as they made their way across the castle's walk-way. Instead of following the allure back into the castle, they climbed upon the battlements. Alec cocked a grin at James as the man leapt, gracefully landing upon a battlement that overlooked the evergreen courtyard that held M's favorite gardens. Below stood a wealth of color against the white stones of the castle, and the snow that was a constant companion to those of the North. Alec made the jump, landing just behind James as the other agent settled upon the walk-way. "Well?"
"I've seen her smile," James admitted, his gaze watching for the movement from the courtyards' gated doors. Eventually they opened, and M lead the two men out into the cold green garden. He glanced once to his companion, offering a smirk, "It was just after that incident with the Lady Kincaid. I had the good sense to run and hide for a full moon afterward."
Alec snorted, a soft chuckle in his throat. "Oh, yeah, Lady Kincaid, the one with the um, yeah?" He made a gesture, to which James nodded once. In the next second, James gripped a hand about Alec's bracer, stilling the man's arm and pulling him down lower to the stone of the walkway upon which they took view. James felt the eyes upon them before the man had even turned around. The Lord's Ward, Q, had shifted, turning to stare up at the at the battlements where the agents hid.
"Q," M called, coming to stand beside him, and sliding a hand over young man's shoulder.
"There are eyes hidden in shadow," Q said, his eyes staying focused upon where James had pulled Alec to lay flat across the walkway. "Maybe I am just unused to the cold," he chuckled. "It makes the hairs on the back of your neck raise."
"It is cooler in the North-lands then where you are from. However, don't discount that feeling. You are not wrong. There are eyes enough in the shadows. However, in my kingdom, they belong to me."
"Will we be meeting your infamous agents then, Majesty?" Lord Mallory inquired, and James sighed as he punched Alec's shoulder. Silently he cursed his fellow for drawing the attention of their guests.
"If they'd stop behaving as errant children," M grumbled. Following the uspoken command, James and Alec relinquished their hiding spot from the parapet shadows. Both of the Shadow Agents slipped over the edge of the garden wall, dropping into the courtyard to kneeling before their queen and her guests. "Lord Mallory, Q, these are two of my agents. 006 and 007."
"006 and 007? What sort of names are those?" Q asked, arching a brow at the kneeling men.
"This coming from a child named 'Q'?" James huffed, earning a snicker from Alec.
"007!" M snapped. Alec had the grace to keep his head bowed, but he was grinning impishly at James.
"Child?" Q asked, indignation evident in his tone. "I suppose, given your age, all must seem as children."
"Only those with spots," James countered. Q's jaw clenched, but M threw up her hands, her endless grace broken with frustration.
"Enough, both of you!" M admonished, frowning once at Q but openly glaring at 007. "Q, as you are obviously aware, names have power. Though my agents are not magi, there is still power to be gained by holding another's name. My agents often use their birth names at their own discretion, of course. However, I have granted them the protection with an offered named. For those who fight the Dark, even such a small thing could mean the difference in life or death. Now," she sighed, looking from Q to James, "It would be for the best if you two were to get along." James frowned, his eyes locking onto M at the last.
"I fail to see how that matters," James said, ignoring the 'shut up!' covert glances he was getting from Alec.
"Really?" M hummed, something akin to humor in her voice. "I should have thought it would be obvious. Lord Mallory," M said turning to the Lord, "I thank you for bringing me your Ward. I will keep my promise, and ensure his safety."
"Bloody hell," James grumbled, forgetting decorum and rising from the kneeling position. The man pulled his strong arms across his chest, returning M's glare for one of his own already sensing where this was headed.
"007 is my best agent. He'll be shadowing Q-"
"What?!" Q baulked, brown eyes going wide behind thick glasses as he stepped back from both M and 007. "This is really unnecessary. Majesty-"
"Are you thinking to question me now, Q?" M asked, turning a cold glare upon the younger man.
"No, Ma'am," Q said, flinching as he caught his slip. James watched as M held her stoic expression, but the warmth in her eyes did not faulted. "006," M motioned to Alec, gesturing to the two guests, "please escort these men through my gardens, and then show them and their fellows to their quarters. In the east wing Moneypenny has seen to establishing several rooms."
"Yes, My Queen," Alec grumbled. Alec, at least, was wise enough to not question the powerful woman to her face. Even if it lead to him being placed on babysitting duty.
"We will see you later, then," Lord Mallory bowed low. His Ward doing the same, following his Lord's cue.
"007," M turned to the blond and tan skinned man. Tilting her head to the side, she gestured to the gate entrance that lead back into the castle. "Walk with me." With a small growl, James followed his Queen's cue, and took her lead back into the castle.
"You planed this," James accused once they were out of ear shot of the guests in the gardens. M didn't deny the accusation. Turning a sapphire gaze upon James, she turned her chin up at the man.
"Are you not my best agent?" M asked, as she all but glided across the crystalline tiles that lined the enchanted castle's halls.
"I'm sure Alec would be more then capable." James offered his friend up as the proverbial sacrifice, though he knew it would do no good. Once M had her mind set, there was nothing short of death that could dissuade from her chosen course of action. Even then, that was no guaranty.
"I have need of Alec. There are other matters to which he must attend," M stopped, turning back to James, her glistening white gown gathering about her legs. "I'm entrusting you with this task, James. We need Q if we are to face what is coming."
"He's a boy," James frowned, shaking his head in dismay. "What good will a boy do against the Dark? He's young, and weak even for a mage. He has the weight of one who could be taken over by a strong breeze."
"He's a Far Seer," M said. Causing James to blink once, twice, before once more frowning.
"That won't protect him from the likes of SIlva," James said, to which M blue eyes smiled back at James.
"No, but that's why you will keep to him, 007."
"Is this because of the mark? I'm fit for combat," James hissed, rotating his shoulder unconsciously. The injury still stung, the cursed bolt that had struck him had been pulled from his shoulder, but not before leaving it's mark. "There's no call in forcing my confinement into the castle walls as a sitter for a pup of a mage."
"I have no intention of that," M said, her eyes maintaining the smile that never touched her lips. "You're no good to me out there at present. For now, however, I can rest at ease, knowing that you will be the one to keep my new apprentice safe." James jaw dropped, any final words to refuse dying back as he stared in shock at his Queen.
"M..." James felt his heart drop as he blinked at the woman in disbelief.
"Now, don't be like that," M hummed, turning away from her agent as she turned down the corridor that lead to her privet chambers. "I expect you will take this task to heart."
"Ma'am," James bowed stiffly, before swiftly turning on his heel to head out to the castle's east wing.