This time I try to think before I speak. Granny would be so proud.
After a moment, I nod. “More opportunity for the working class is always a positive thing. I think it’s a good idea.”
Beelzebub smiles slowly, his yellow teeth glinting in the cool afternoon sun.
“What were you thinking?”
Turns out Granny isn’t so proud after all.
She slaps the Sunday Times on her desk, letting the headline do the yelling for her.
CROWN REVERSES STANCE – SUPPORTS CONTROVERSIAL REPATRIATION
From my chair, across from the Queen’s mighty desk, I point at the paper. “That’s not what I said.”
I should have known when I was summoned here that something was wrong. Being called to the Queen’s office is not so different from being ordered to see the headmaster—no good ever comes from it.
She scowls down at me, the lines around her mouth sharper and deeper than they were a year ago. I have that effect on people.
“We have lobbied for months to derail this legislation. The only thing preventing a passing vote has been our strenuous disapproval. And now you, in one stroke, have undone all of that work.”
My skin feels tight and itchy beneath my suit. I push a hand through my hair, which I’ve been told is in need of a trim. Which is exactly why it’s almost touching my shoulders.
“I didn’t undo anything! It was an offhand remark. A conversation.”
The Queen braces her hands on the desk, leaning forward. “You are the Crown Prince—you don’t have the luxury of ‘offhand’ remarks. You speak for the House of Pembrook and your every word, action, and breath has the potential to be twisted and regurgitated by whichever side finds it useful. We have discussed this, Henry.”
I used to be Granny’s favorite. We had a special relationship. She was always amused by my stories and adventures. That went up in smoke the day I was named her successor. She’s never amused by me anymore—hell, I don’t think she even likes me.
“Did you even bother to read our stance on the subject? I had Christopher send it to you weeks ago.”
Christopher is the Queen’s private secretary—her lackey. In his off time I suspect he walks around with a gimp ball in his mouth with her photo on it.
“I haven’t had the time.”
“You haven’t made the time.”
When excuses fall flat, deflection is always the way to go. “You were the one who insisted I attend that stupid golf outing with Arseholes One and Two.”
Her words are clipped and quick—like the rapid fire of a machine gun. “Because I foolishly thought you were familiar with the phrase ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Silly me.”
My nostrils flare. “I didn’t ask for any of this!”
To be put in this position. To be weighed down with this crushing responsibility. I never wanted the keys to the kingdom—I was happy with just coming and going through the damn door.
My grandmother straightens and lifts her chin. Unmoved and unwavering.
“No, you weren’t my first choice either.”
A gut-punch from a seventy-eight-year-old lady shouldn’t do much damage. But coming from a woman I actually admire, who’s the closest I’ve had to a mother since I was ten years old? It hurts.
So I react the way I always have. I lean back in my chair, resting my ankle on my opposite knee, a smirk on my lips as far as the eye can see.
“Well, it looks like we’re in the same boat, Granny. We should rename the Palace of Wessco—do you prefer the Titanic or the Hindenburg?”
She doesn’t flinch or blink and she sure as hell doesn’t smile. Her gray eyes are as sharp and glinting as the blade of a guillotine.
And just as lethal.
“You make jokes. If this legislation passes, it will roll back protections for low-wage workers. Exposing them to unfair and possibly dangerous labor practices. Do you think they’ll laugh at your jokes then, Henry?”
Damn, she’s good. Mother-guilt is effective—but queen-guilt is a whole other level.
My smirk is slapped from my face.
“I’ll put out a statement explaining that I was misled by Sir Aloysius and my words were taken out of context.”
She shakes her head. “Which will only serve to tell the world that you’re a fool who can be easily misled.”
“Then I’ll put out a statement saying I’ve reflected on the issue and changed my mind.”
“Which will demonstrate that your word cannot be trusted—that your opinions are fluid and you do not mean what you say.”
Christ, it’s like a Chinese finger trap—the harder you struggle, the stronger it holds. I don’t smoke, but I could sure use a cigarette right about now. Or a shot of whiskey.
A pistol might also be the way to go.
“Then what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Nothing,” she hisses. “I will fix this. You will go to Guthrie House and stay there. Do not speak to anyone; do not entertain guests. Just . . . read, Henry. Educate yourself—for all our sakes.”
And that is how a queen sends a prince to his room.
She turns around, gazing out the window, her small, wrinkly hands folded tightly behind her back.
I stand and lift my hand toward her, meaning to say . . . something. An apology or a promise to do better. But after a moment it drops back to my side. Because it won’t matter—I’ve already been dismissed.