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Topics - Josh Stuart

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1
Of Gall And Grangers / A Visit to Rhy'Din
« on: January 29, 2020, 06:28:20 PM »
It seemed like an age since Dru and Josh had set foot in Rhy'Din, their public lives in Tirisano having grown more hectic in the past year. With the prince still ailing but holding onto power to give them time to come to grips with being parents, they had been granted leave to come back to Rhy'Din for a few weeks, with the proviso that they return before Dru gave birth. That gave them three weeks, at the very least, time they were looking forward to spending just as themselves and not as the heirs to power in a small principality to the south. Having checked in with Lena and the others at the Cove, they had spent a comfortable night in their own house on the beach before making their way to Maple Grove together, braving the cold, wintry weather to knock on the door of the big house and say hello for the first time in months.

The door to Maple Grove Manor opened as soon as Dru and Josh knocked on the door, as if those inside were eagerly awaiting their arrival. Jon greeted the pair with a wide grin and stepped forward to wrap his arms around his baby sister in a warm hug.

"Welcome home, Dru. We've missed you!"

Startled by the quick response, Dru couldn't help but laugh as her older brother pulled her into a warm hug, unsurprised to see Vicki lurking behind him, waiting to pounce on Josh the moment she could.

And pounce she did, 5'6" of cheerful redhead throwing her arms around Josh and planting a big kiss on his cheek. "Good grief, you're frozen! Come inside, both of you!"

"We only just got out of the car!" Josh pointed out with a chuckle as Jon and Vicki pulled him and Dru inside. It was cold out, but they hadn't really had much time to freeze just yet. He waited for the inevitable stampede of children that never came and looked a little puzzled. "Where are the troops?"

"Three at school, twins with Dani," Vicki told him in amusement. "We didn't think you would particularly want to be overwhelmed with children right from the get-go. They'll have plenty of time to crawl all over you in the next couple of weeks."

Smiling, Dru pulled back from Jon, undoing her coat as she did so. "Where's Humphrey?"

"In the study," Jon replied, moving to help Dru with her coat, beating Josh to it. "He's, uh ..." Jon frowned. "He isn't getting around so well these days."

"Is he okay?" Josh asked as he shrugged off his own coat, a concerned frown on his face.

"Winter always slows him down," Vicki said with a gentle smile, helping Josh with his coat. "Arthritis and cold do not get on. And he would never admit it, but he needs his afternoon nap in the study."

"So we should wait a while before we go and say hello to him?" Dru asked, smiling gratefully at Jon as he took her coat, wrapping her cardigan warm about her by-now quite prominent bump.

"That's probably a good idea," Jon replied, smiling as he got a look at Dru's bump. "Well, look at you. That baby looks like it's ready to pop any day now," he teased. "Boy or girl, or aren't we telling?"

"According to the doctor, we still have a month to go," Dru managed with a rueful smile, glancing over at Josh fondly. "We decided to be surprised. And that way, Jamie won't slip up and let it out of the bag before time."

"Is he liable to do that?" Jon asked, only having met Josh's older brother a few times and not knowing him very well. He took Josh's coat from Vicki and turned to hang them both in the closet.

"Let's just say, my brother has a hard time keeping a secret," Josh replied. "Hey, Vicki, how are you?" he asked, finally getting a chance to give his sister-in-law a proper greeting.

"Genuinely excited to see you two!" was Vicki's exuberant response. "Come on upstairs, I'll put the kettle on and we can have a comfy chat." She gestured for them to follow her, claiming Josh's hand to pull him up at her side.

Cosmo was nowhere to be seen or heard, apparently busy keeping Humphrey company in the study. It was a good time to visit, as the house was pretty quiet this time of day.

"After you," Jon said, ushering the pair on ahead of him.

"We were going to visit Des and Piper as well, but Lena said something about them going on vacation tomorrow?" Dru said as they walked up the stairs. "It didn't seem fair to just show up the day before they're gone for a week."

"How long are you planning on staying in Rhy'Din?" Jon asked, taking up the rear as the foursome made their way up the stairs.

"A few weeks," Josh replied. "We're supposed to be back before the baby is due to be born," he explained.

"Well, so long as the baby doesn't make a surprise appearance, you should have time to see them when they get back."

"We've got about thirty-three days until the due date, so I'd say we'll be here at least three weeks," Dru predicted. "We need this break before everything gets so much more hectic with a baby around."

"But you'll have help, right?" Jon asked, taking his time going up the stairs so as not to rush his very-pregnant baby sister.

"To a degree," Josh replied. After all, they didn't want someone else raising their child for them.

"I'm not giving our son or daughter to a wet-nurse and then not see them until they turn five," Dru pointed out. Just from her tone, it seemed she and Josh had already won this battle back in Tirisano. "They're just going to have to handle having a ... a queen who actually likes her family." That queen did not come out easily.

"Wait ... queen?" Jon echoed, coming to a halt near the top of the stairs. "Is your uncle really going to step down?" he asked. Or whatever the proper term was for a regent stepping down once a monarch was of age to take over the throne.

Dru sighed, nodding. "He hasn't really recovered from his stroke, although we've been keeping it quiet," she explained. "He'll abdicate, probably by the end of the year, and Parliament has voted to make Tirisano a kingdom, rather than a principality. So instead of the Princess, I'll be ... Queen."


2
Of Gall And Grangers / A Very Long Morning
« on: October 14, 2019, 01:24:12 PM »
It had been four years since Lady Keira had wed the Earl of Roslae, and in that time she had given him two sons. The eldest, affectionately known as Freddie, had grown into a precocious three-year-old, while his younger brother, Nate, was a little over a year old. While the youngest might not be old enough to climb out of his crib on his own, the elder of the two was more than happy to help. It was very early this particular morning that found the two boys tiptoeing quietly into their parents' room, unaware they were already well aware of their children's escape from bed, due to the baby monitor that kept watch over the pair of boys.

Of course, part of the fun for their parents was pretending to be asleep so the boys could "startle" them awake together, but not even Keira could pretend without a smile quirking her lips. She could hear Freddie whispering loudly to his little brother as the two small boys edged into the room.

"Shhhh, they sleepin'."

Of course they were sleeping, as was evidenced by their father's very loud, very dramatic snoring. One hand hung down over the bed, his head turned to the side, facing Keira, one eye sliding open to give her a quick wink.

She caught that wink, biting down on her own wide grin with a deep sigh, nestling tighter into her own pillow. They both felt the bed dip near their feet as Freddie shoved his little brother up onto the covers before scrambling up after him, both sets of little hands and knees pressing almost painfully into sensitive parts of their parents' bodies as they approached the head end of the bed.

Jamie gave an enormous snore, the mattress rolling like a ship at sea as he rolled onto his back, careful not to knock either child off the bed, but abrupt enough to give them pause.

Keira actually laughed as she felt Nate grab her hip through the covers, turning the sound hastily into a pseudo-snore of her own. Unfortunately for Jamie, rolling onto his back proved too much of a temptation for his eldest. Freddie scrambled forward on all fours, plunking himself down firmly on his father's chest, and planted a big wet smacker of a kiss on him that enveloped Jamie's nose.

The big man couldn't help but smirk at his eldest's antics, reminded a little of himself when he'd been that age. He'd gotten his younger brother into all kinds of trouble, though somehow he suspected his parents knew he'd been behind the mischief all along. He pried an eye open to glare at his sons, rolling that eye back and forth as though he were a cyclops eying his next meal. He gave a great roar and surged forward to scoop both boys up, one in each arm.

The squealing laughter was exactly the same as it was almost every morning, accompanied by that masculine roar and the feminine snorts and giggles as Keira lurched out of the way. The little boys flailed happily as they were captured, hugging their arms around Jamie as he sat up.

Jamie smooched each of the boys noisily on the cheek, bear-hugging them before lowering them back to the bed to greet their mother.

"And just what are you both doing up and how did your little brother escape his bed?" he asked, eying his eldest.

Laughing, Keira opened her arms to let Nate snuggle up beside her, kissing his hair as Freddie grinned at Jamie.

"We broked his bed," he informed his father cheerfully. "The bottom went bang."

"Frederick Stuart, are you saying you broke your little brother out of his crib?" Keira asked in amusement.

Freddie nodded cheerfully, not at all ashamed of his actions.

Jamie rolled his eyes at his son's admission, noting how the little boy seemed proud of his achievement.

"There's not much point in putting Natty into a crib if his big brother is going to break him out. How do you two feel about sharing a bed?" he asked the pair, a stern look on his face, though he was anything but.

"But what if he falls out?" Freddie pointed out. Keira glanced between the two boys with a faint sigh and a smile. "We could find a bed that is closer to the floor so neither of you get hurt like that."

"What your mother said," Jamie replied, drawing Freddie onto his lap. "What do you think? Would you like to share a bed with your little brother?" he asked. There were ways to make sure the little boy wouldn't fall out, and it might be safer in the long run than having him escape his crib.

Freddie didn't seem to need to think about it too much, nodding happily as he cuddled into Jamie's lap.

"An', an', an' matchin' jammies?" he asked hopefully.

Jamie smirked. He knew there would come a time when the eldest no longer wanted to share a bed with his brother or wear matching outfits, but that time wasn't now.

"If you wish," he replied, tousling the boy's blond hair.

Curled up beside Keira, Nate let out a huge burp suddenly, making his mother laugh. "Do you have a rumbly in your tumbly, little man?" she asked, unsurprised when the little boy nodded.

"Wan' bwekfus," he said hopefully, looking between his parents.

Thankfully, they didn't have to cook, as the Earl had servants a-plenty to do such things for them.

"And what would his Lordship like for bwekfus?" Jamie asked his youngest curiously.

"Fwoo."

Keira chuckled, sitting up with Nate tucked into her lap. The youngest Stuart's obsession with having fruit with everything was relatively new, but he was holding the line firmly.

"Hmm," Jamie mused aloud, as if this was the first and only morning he had ever asked his sons these questions. "Pancakes or waffles?" he asked, giving them a choice, but a simple one.

"Waffles!" Freddie was the one to answer that question, clapping his hands together excitedly.

Keira smiled. "Well, we should probably make ourselves presentable for the breakfast table then, shouldn't we?" she asked her boys. "Unless you really want to show your jammies to your grandpa."

"As if he's never seen them before," Jamie murmured under his breath. He didn't think his father really cared whether they dressed for breakfast or not, as much as Keira seemed to. He flashed his wife a cheeky smile before leaning close to properly greet her with a kiss. "Morning, love."

"Morning, sweetheart," she answered, smiling into her morning kiss cheerfully. She knew her boys didn't really care if they went to breakfast in their pajamas or not, but she never felt quite right wearing her nightclothes outside the bedroom.

He kissed her again, just for good measure, before turning back to their sons. "All right then, you know the routine!" he told them, tossing the blankets aside so he could climb out of bed. He plucked each boy up, one at a time, and set them on their feet. "Let's go find something to wear!"

"M'kay, Daddy!"

Freddie waited until Nate was set down beside him, and claimed his little brother's hand, both of them toddling back toward their own bedroom as Keira eased out of bed herself.

"You or me dressing the boys today?" she asked Jamie in amusement.

"I can do it, if you like," he told her, moving over to slide his arms around her waist and touch another kiss to her lips. He never got tired of kissing her, even after four years of marriage.

Wrapping her arms about his shoulders, she gave him another smile to taste, hugging close for a long moment. "I think perhaps you should," she agreed quietly, peppering his lips with kisses. "I may need to vomit unexpectedly."

She couldn't have said anything more unexpected than that, but then, they did have a healthy sex life - a very healthy sex life. He arched a brow, eying her curiously. "Keira, are you?" he asked, without spelling it out for her.

She nodded, her eyes bright. "I'm fairly sure I am," she told him confidently. "And if this one is a girl, that's it, we're done," she added laughingly, tweaking his chin with an affectionate giggle.

He laughed, at both the threat and the tweak. "Shall I hope for a boy, then?" he asked, with a smirk before leaning in to touch a kiss to the tip of her nose. Blue eyes sparkled with amusement, though he didn't really mind if the next one was their last, so long as it was a girl.

Nuzzling close, her laugh was softer but no less warm for all that. "Three is enough," she pointed out, "but I do want a little girl. The boys will be completely in love with her if the way they've taken to each other is anything to go by."

"I would like a girl, too," he said, his forehead touching hers, a soft smile on his face. He adored his boys, but their family wouldn't feel complete until they had a little girl.

She smiled up at him, breathing slowly and comfortably for a long moment. "We'll just have to hope, then," she murmured. "If we decide to wait, we won't know until April."

As much as he adored his boys, Jamie smiled at the thought of a daughter - a little girl, who'd take after her mother. "Let's just hope she doesn't have her mother's temper," he teased.

3
Of Gall And Grangers / Unexpected Interruption
« on: March 01, 2015, 09:08:14 PM »
"Ow ... ouch!" "I'm sorry, your highness!" The sound of a princess being undone after a royal engagement was one Josh had certainly got used to since he'd become a prince of Tirisano. Dru certainly put up with a lot to be presented in public with the fairytale princess look, that was for sure. Today, it seemed to be the hair that was causing problems. "All right, Iona, enough," she said finally, waving her ladies maid away. "The pins are out, I can do the rest. Go and relax for the night." Iona fled gratefully, dropping a curtsey to Josh as she slipped from the dressing room and through the main room of the royal couple's suite, disappearing out through the main door as Dru came into sight, dragging a brush ruthlessly through her hair. "Whoever invented the updo needs to be strangled with their own hair."    

Josh chuckled, both at the fleeing ladies maid and at the princess who he had become married to not so very long ago. "You never needed anyone to help you with your hair when we were in Rhy'Din," he pointed out helpfully, unable to hide the teasing grin from his face. Thankfully, he did not have to worry about updos and other such silliness as the prince of Tirisano.    
 
She narrowed her eyes, threatening to throw the brush at him even as she smiled. "When we're in Rhy'Din, I'm just Dru," she pointed out. "Here, I'm the heir to the bloody throne." The brush made a dreadful sound as she ripped through a tangle, shuffling across the floor in her robe to fold herself down onto the nearest comfortable seat. "It went well, though, didn't it? I managed not to embarrass us or insult anyone."

"No, it seemed you saved that for Iona," he replied, amusement in his voice. He followed her to the chair and held out a hand for the brush. "Let me," he said, not taking no for an answer. "At this rate, you'll go bald before you get than tangle out."

She sighed softly. "I don't mean to be so ratty with her," she said uncomfortably, handing over the brush without a second thought. "It just hurts when she pulls out all those pins. Maybe I should cut my hair short, what do you think?"

"No!" he said a little too quickly, frowning thoughtfully as he actually took a minute to better consider the question. "I mean, if that's what you really want, I suppose," he added, as he gently pushed the brush through her hair to work its way through the tangles. He was obviously fond of her hair, but if she really wanted to cut it, he wouldn't stand in her way.

Dru laughed at his abrupt denial of her suggestion just to lop off her long locks, tipping her head back to look up at him. "Nice save," she smiled fondly, reaching up to gently touch her hand to his arm. "I'd miss it if it was short, anyway. And it doesn't exactly give off the image I'm supposed to convey if I go pixie."

"What image is that?" he asked, curiously. Once he got over the shock of the idea of her with short hair, he thought he might actually like it. It was her hair, after all, to do what she wanted with it, and who was he to tell her what that was? He wasn't quite sure what a pixie was as far as hairstyles were concerned, but maybe it was better that way. If she got her hair loped off that short, it would likely be shorter than his. "You could always wear a wig," he teased, as he carefully worked the brush through that stubborn tangle of hair.

"Oh, you know, the fairytale princess," she sighed. "Always has long hair, always looks perfect, never says anything wrong. Always has her Prince Charming on hand. Two out of four isn't awful, is it?" She flicked a smile up at him - there was no denying that he was her Prince Charming.

"Three out of four maybe," he disagreed. He wouldn't argue the part about never saying anything wrong, though Dru played the part well. "Besides, who says you have to have long hair and have to always look perfect. Nobody's perfect, Dru. Not even you," he teased further, smiling as he drew back, the tangle conquered not by a battles of wills, but purely patience.

"I know," she sighed softly, tugging on his arm to pull him around to where she could loop her arms about his waist and cuddle into him. "It's just a lot, you know? So many people watching and waiting for mistakes to be made, just waiting to pounce. I honestly cannot wait for Parliament to be over so we can get back to Rhy'Din where everything is normal."

He had to chuckle at that a little, mostly at the part about Rhy'Din being normal, when in reality, Rhy'Din was anything but. He moved over in front of her, crouching down so that his teller form was at eye level with her. "You can't worry about that, Dru," he told her, pushing her hair back from her face, his fingers grazing her cheek. "If you start worrying about every little thing you do wrong, everything little thing you say or do, you'll just drive yourself crazy. You have to think of it as playing a part, being on stage, you know? Say all the right lines, do all the right things, but at the end of the show, you're just Dru again."

4
Of Gall And Grangers / A Lady's Honor
« on: March 16, 2014, 07:08:49 PM »
Joseph had been a roaring success, but like all roaring successes, it was a huge relief when the intense focus of a fourteen day run was over. The chorus had, as usual, decided to extend the last night well past the dropping of the curtain, spilling out of the Shanachie with hands grasping at significant others and poor unfortunate members of the crew who hadn't been quick enough to say no. One laughing, loudly chattering entity of actors, singers, and dancers too hyped up to sleep just yet descended on the nearest club to celebrate the end of their run and the promise of a couple of weeks off before the next round of rehearsals began.

Warned ahead of time that this was the plan, Dru has actually managed to dress in something that wasn't ridiculously baggy or too hot to dance in. No doubt Josh had been a little confused by the sight of her showing up to work in a dress earlier, but now it made perfect sense as they walked along with the rest of the group. She let out a low yelp of surprise as a long arm looped itself over her shoulders, another tall member of the chorus leaning down to kiss her cheek enthusiastically.

"Did good tonight, Judy," Claud informed her, grinning a little pointedly over her head at Josh as he hugged her very nearly off her feet before letting go. "Gonna get your groove on with me?"

Rumors had been circulating since opening night that Josh and Dru might be more than friends, but though the pair had been mostly inseparable, they had been discreet while in public, and it was hard to tell whether the rumors were true or just rumors. Though Josh was relieved that the run of Joseph was over, there was a certain amount of sadness that went along with the closing of a show, especially one that had been as successful and as much fun as this one had been. Still, he and Dru would have more time now to concentrate on their studies and spend some free time together, without the constant drain on their time and energy that went into the theater.

A night out to cut loose with cast and crew - most of whom were now friends - was just what Josh and Dru needed before turning their focus to matters of studies and state. Josh had planned on keeping his relationship with Dru to themselves, but now that Claud seemed to be trying to move in on his territory, he was reconsidering that plan. "Her name is Dru," Josh corrected his rival, trying to keep his jealousy under wraps.

"Dru!" Claud grinned down at the girl in question, who was wiping spittle off her face and trying not to laugh at him in case she hurt his feelings. "One syllable, like me. All the best people keep it simple, cutie." His hand lowered to pat her rear end, but that, at least, she saw coming.

Skipping out of the way, Dru dropped to walk on the other side of Josh, rolling her eyes at Claud. "Hands to yourself, Jacobsen."

The other actor laughed, and instead clapped Josh on the back - the gesture looked friendly, but there was a little more force there than was needed to be just a friendly touch. "Feisty, isn't she?"

Josh's gaze followed Dru as she moved around to the other side of him away from Claud, before turning back. He subtly reached for her hand, more for her sake than  Claud's, who more than likely wouldn't notice. "If you only knew," Josh muttered back at the guy.

"Oh, I sense a story," Claud laughed, though there was an edge to the sound. Was he jealous, by any chance? As Dru's fingers curled into Josh's hand and she was drawn into conversation with Anette, he went on, fishing for details. "So you've hit that already, have you, Joshie boy? Reckon she'd go for an older man with a few things to teach her?"

Josh clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth, visibly bristling at Claud's continued remarks. The guy was really starting to get on his nerves. It didn't help when he addressed him in what Josh considered to be a condescending manner. "I reckon you're barking up the wrong tree. Why don't you go hit on someone closer to your own age? Maybe they can teach you some manners."

"Ooohoo, Pharaoh's got teeth, guys!" Claud, it seemed, wasn't going to let a little irritation get him down, but he wasn't stupid enough to goad Josh any further, releasing the other man's shoulder to rejoin others a little further ahead as they moved to enter the club.

Beside Josh, Dru squeezed his hand, glancing up with a faint smirk on her face. She hadn't heard what was said, but it seemed as though her boyfriend - and that word still made her grin like an idiot - was beginning to regret not announcing their relationship to the entire cast at the very first opportunity.

"Idiot," Josh hissed under his breath, narrowing his eyes as he watched the other man retreat, hoping he maintained his distance. There always seemed to be one jack*ss in the group, whether it was Tirisano or Rhy'Din. His gaze still watching the other man, he remarked quietly to Dru, "If he bothers you again, let me know. I'd like nothing better than to teach him a few manners." And he'd probably teach that lesson with both his fists.

"He's not really being a bother," she murmured back to Josh just as quietly, glancing toward Claud as the group settled into a line to get into the club. "You know he doesn't have a hope in hell of getting my attention."

"He seems to think otherwise," Josh replied quietly, still watching the man's back as they lined up to get into the club, starting to regret agreeing to come along, but if he hadn't, there was no telling what the guy might have said or done without Josh here to watch out for Dru.

"It isn't what he thinks that counts," she answered, taking advantage of the close knit shuffle to press her lips to the back of his hand swiftly. Thankfully, they weren't asked for ID, which could have been a little awkward, the bouncer just waving them both through along with the rest of the group. A spacious corner booth was quickly bartered for by the more flirtatious of the chorus girls, a place to put bags and jackets under the constant vigilance of whoever was sitting at the time, and a small Brownian motion took several of the group to the bar while others surveyed the dance floor.

"Trust me, Dru, I've seen guys like that before. Get a few drinks in him, and he's only going to get worse," Josh informed her, secretly promising to stick to her like glue. He appreciated the show of affection, but it didn't really do much to soothe his annoyance. He followed her inside, pausing a moment to survey their surroundings and see what groups formed.

Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Dru was naive enough not to know a bad egg when she saw one, appreciating his protectiveness but not really thinking it was particularly necessary. As he hung back, she dropped her bag and jacket with everyone else's, stretching her arms above her head as she contemplated getting a drink before heading out to dance.

Josh was generally one of the more popular among the group, which was probably why he'd been asked to come along, though Claud had set Josh's teeth on edge and ruined his mood. Josh kept his jacket on, at least for now, not really wanting to leave Dru alone, though he thought he should get them a couple of drinks. "Stay here with the girls, and I'll get us some drinks."

5
Of Gall And Grangers / Phoning Home
« on: March 11, 2014, 07:05:34 PM »
It had been nearly two weeks since Josh had checked in with his father and brother, and during that two weeks, a lot had happened that had changed things. While he didn't want to share every detail of his growing relationship with Dru, he needed his father's advice, and maybe more importantly, his support and approval. While Dru took care of her own business with her uncle and Xoren, Josh returned to the cottage he was staying in on Maple Grove, allowing them both a few hours of privacy to reconnect with their families before they rejoined one another later.

He showered and changed his clothes and got an overnight bag ready for the evening, with every intention on spending the night at Dru's, whether it was a good idea or not. But first things first. It took a few minutes for the call to go through, as Josh nervously waited on the other end for his father to answer.

While ordinarily it could take up to twenty minutes to get through to the Duke's personal line, today Josh was put through immediately. Evidently his father had been waiting for him to call. The Duke answered from his seat by the window in his office, where he had been studiously ignoring a pile of paperwork that needed to be looked at for the past hour or so in favor of watching Jamie fail miserably at archery with amusing consequences. "Hello?"

"Hey, Dad, it's me," Josh started. Well, of course it was him. Who else would it be? "Sorry I haven't called in a while. I've been pretty busy." He knew that excuse sounded lame and told his father nothing, but at least, it was honest. "How are you? How's Jamie?" he asked, sounding a little bit nervous.

"Josh, what wonderful timing you have!" Duke Oliver sounded genuinely pleased to hear from his youngest son, tearing his eyes away from the pig's ear his eldest was making of the archery course to give Josh his full attention. "I've been well, thank you for asking. Stupidly busy with the security arrangements for the Trooping of the Color, of course, but aren't I always?" He glanced through the window once again and chuckled. "Your brother has just shot the nose off that appalling statue of some goddess or other in the rose garden, would you believe? Somehow I don't think Jamie was made to be an archer."

Josh winced at that bit of news, chuckling a little. "Maybe you should take the bow away from him before he hurts himself," he suggested. Josh had always been better at athletics than his older brother, though Jamie had excelled at most everything else.

"I suggested he should try something easier," the duke chuckled. "Perhaps knitting. But he is trying to impress Lady Alyssa Grigori, and you know how much she likes a man with a few lethal skills." His grin was audible as he adjusted his tie, turning away from the window properly. "And how is Rhy'Din treating you, son? How has your performance been going? I understand you opened last Monday."

"Maybe he should try impressing her with poetry," Josh suggested with a smile in his voice that his father would be able to hear across the many miles that separated them. It was good to hear his father's voice again and to imagine his brother's romantic exploits. "I'm sure you have already read the reviews, Dad." Reviews which consisted of glowing praise for all involved. "A lively production," one critic wrote. "Tons of fun for the whole family," wrote another. "Exuberates joy," said yet another. And the praise went on and on, not only for the principals, but the entire cast.

"Reviews only tell me how the show is being received, not how you are enjoying it," his father scoffed cheerfully, deftly switching handsets to a wireless one. He'd heard the nerves in his son's voice when Josh had said hello - he wouldn't be so high in the government of the country if he couldn't tell when he might need to seek secure privacy at a moment's notice. "If I could snatch the time away, I would have come to see it myself, but the ceremonial season is upon us. So tell me ... how do you like being God King of all Egypt?"

6
Of Gall And Grangers / Hatching a Plan
« on: February 22, 2014, 04:34:11 PM »
The small principality of Tirisano was one of those blessed places that seemed to live in a state of perpetual summer. Even in winter, when snow lay thick on the ground, it was bright with sunlight to warm the chill in the air and display to best effect the beautiful gardens that proliferated within the capital city of Itana. Outside the city, it was much the same, the little country alive with wide fields dressed in green and gold beneath the crisp snow. Though they were not a large power, they were a well kept one, each duchy - small though it was - cared for by a family from within the elite nobility, families who provided the political power that was governed by the royal family, such as it was.

In the duchy of Roslae, it was the royal family that was foremost in the mind of the duke himself. Oliver James Stuart was the fifty-seventh Duke of Roslae, and prided himself on both his position in the oldest noble family in Tirisano, as well as his place within Prince Julius' government. Indeed, he had attended school with the Prince, counting himself among the select few who could call themselves the man's friends. And it was to a friend that the Prince had turned to fulfill a need that was most pressing.

The Duke waited in his study patiently, aware that the young man he had summoned to meet with him wasn't exactly known for being on time when the duty expected of him by his family interfered with the fun he could be having elsewhere. But, with any luck, he wouldn't mind so much the duty that was about to be put on his shoulders.

Joshua Oliver Stuart - or Josh, as he was known to his friends - had been more than a little surprised at the unexpected summons from the Duke of Roslae, who was also his father. As the second-born son, he did not have to worry so much about history lessons and politics and being groomed to one day take over the duchy. He was far more interested in soccer games and drama classes and girls than in the things that occupied his father's time as Duke of Roslae. Even so, a summons was a summons - whether it be from the duke or from his father.

It was one of those peculiar situations where the summons had come from both the duke and his father, and thus was not likely to be easily predicted. Nevertheless, when Josh finally made his appearance in the manor house, he was directed to his father's study. The Duke turned as his son entered, looking him over with the gentle, wry amusement of a man who really was too old to be playing games anymore. "Josh, nice of you to join me. How are you today?"

"I'm well, Father, and you?" Josh replied, obviously having just come from some sporting event or other, as his hair was still damp and curling on his head as it dried, and his cheeks were flushed from hurrying.

"Old, decrepit, and generally overworked," was his father's reply, followed by a chuckle. "Much the same as usual. Did you win, whatever it was you've been doing?" He tapped one of the armchairs by the window, a clear invitation for his son to make himself comfortable.

"I don't know," the young man replied, easing himself down into the proffered chair now that his father had given him leave to sit. "I had to leave before it was over, but we were ahead." He smiled broadly, happy his father had inquired as to his activities, even if he so rarely was able to attend in person.

Moving to sit with his son, Duke Oliver settled comfortably into his own chosen chair with a faint groan of relief. "Excellent," he praised Josh without reserve. "And your studies, how are they progressing? I understand you've been garnering a good deal of praise in your theatrical pursuits."

"They're going well. We're doing Hamlet in a few weeks. I got the part of Laertes," he told his father proudly. It didn't matter to him if he had the lead role or not, so long as he had a role, and he was looking forward to sinking his teeth into the role of Ophelia's brooding brother.

"Very good, very good indeed." There was just enough hesitation in the duke's expression, however, to warn that there was bad news coming, however carefully it was offered. "Joshua ... how would you like to take your skills onto a professional stage? To perform with professional actors in an acclaimed theater, in a variety of different roles?"

Whatever pride Josh was feeling turned to confusion at his father's offer. "Professional? But I haven't graduated yet. I still have two years to go," he pointed out, wondering what his father was thinking. Was he pulling the plug on his son's schooling, or did he really think he was ready to work professionally without finishing?

"Nonsense, an actor doesn't become talented at holding an audience through lessons and theory," his father assured him, and to be fair, he did know what he was talking about. "Even when you were a child, you could hold the attention of a hundred guests at a party, without even trying. You could bring people to tears and to laughter, just with the caliber of your recitations. That can't be learned, Josh. And I am in a position to be able to send you to a place where you can put everything you have learned and everything that you can do into practice. Are you interested?"

Josh looked both shocked and surprised by this turn of events, unsure how he should feel about it. It would mean leaving his friends behind, but it was also an opportunity that he couldn't very well pass up. Josh knew his father well enough to know that something was up. This was too sudden, too unexpected, and it was coming just as he was about to take on the role of his short lifetime. "Father, what's this about?" he asked, pointedly.

"Politics, son." In one word, there was the answer and the smokescreen, rolled neatly into a single sigh from his father. "We are in a delicate situation, following the attack at the Independence Day Parade. I'm sure you have been wondering, like most of the country, why the Princess Royale has not been seen in public but for pre-eminent appearances since the death of her mother and the Prince's brother."

Josh shrugged. He did not know the Princess personally and wasn't overly concerned with matters of politics, though he was certainly loyal to his country as much as anyone his age might be. "I presumed she was in safe keeping," he replied, logically, wondering now if he was mistaken in his presumption. But that still didn't explain how all that involved him.

"In a manner of speaking," the duke nodded. "She's with her father's family. In Rhy'Din." The mysterious father who had never been named, and the infamous city to the north that was at once repellent and deeply intriguing to everyone who had never been there. "And if you agree to what I am about to ask of you, then Rhy'Din is where you will go, to the Shanachie Theater, which couldn't turn you away. You have talent, skill, and integrity, and you will not be going as my son but as your own person."

"I'm sorry," Josh started, jaw dropping a moment at the implication of this bit of news. "Her father?" he echoed. The matter of the Princess Royale's parentage had never been a matter up for public discussion or debate. Ever. As the duke continued to unveil this little subterfuge of his, it became clear to the duke's son just what his father might be expecting of him and why he was making this sudden offer. Josh frowned, his heart sinking. He'd thought perhaps his father believed in him and was offering him the opportunity of a lifetime, but instead, he was only using him for political reasons. "I see. You want me to spy on her."

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