The boy was skinny, short for his age, which was nine and had the largest grey eyes Ian had ever seen. He had dark blond hair that stuck out over his head, bony arms with what seemed no muscle, and his clothes which were well made, seemed rather dusty and rumpled. He seemed nervous, for when Ian had asked him politely how the journey had been, he had begun babbling about the roads and the things he had seen, waving his hands in odd gestures and then abruptly bringing them back to his sides, standing straight and stiff, and clamming up completely.
Ian scanned the note from his second cousin-twice-or-three-times-removed. It had some sort of rubbish greeting, and then went on to say that the boy (whose name was Phillip) was the son of a Duke, and that his parents were dead, so…technically…the boy was now the Duke.
“I have sent Phillip to your gracious majesty, hoping that you will accept him into your great service as a squire. In time, if the boy fulfills his duties to your satisfaction, mayhap you would even see fit to make him a knight.”
At that, the young king nearly dropped the piece of parchment. Until the kid was able to be a knight?! Great, that meant like…four years at the least. And the kid was supposed to stay in his service, like…be raised by him until then? Oh. Just lovely. Because Ian knew everything about raising a kid. Yeah…
Ian looked back at the note. “The boy’s parents, Duke Wilhelm and Duchess Sophia, died in a plague that ravaged their city. They were trusted and loyal subjects of mine. Duchess Sophia was a cousin of your majesty’s mother, (may she rest in peace), and thus I found it fitting that young Phillip be sent into your care, as you are his last living relative.”
The rest was rubbish and well wishes, and a big, fancy signature that covered about a third of the paper saying “RUDOLPH”.
Ian frowned, folded the paper and studied the boy, still standing in front of him. The boy shifted his feet, but looked up and matched Ian’s gaze. For a moment, the dark green eyes of the king were rivaled by the deep grey of the young Duke. Then the corner of Ian’s mouth curled up in a sort of satisfied smirk, and he look up at the guards who stood, ceremoniously guarding the door to his study. “Leave us.” He said. The armored men instantly snapped to attention and filed out, shutting the door firmly behind them.
“Great!” Ian exclaimed, setting the parchment down and sitting on his desk in a most casual manner. “Now we don’t have to stand on ceremony or anything.” He folded his arms and grinned at Phillip, who appeared rather bewildered. “So, Phillip, right? You’re…how old?”
“Nine, sire.” Phillip replied, in a high pitched squeak. He coughed, and repeated in a normal tone, “Nine, sire.”
Ian’s attempt at keeping a straight face failed rather miserably, and Phillip blushed profusely.
“Voice getting deeper, eh?” Ian commented. “I remember when mine did that. I didn’t talk for a week. And then my voice turned into the exceptionally beautiful, masculine voice it is now.” He grinned, waiting for Phillip to smile or laugh, but…the boy still looked confused. Ian coughed, and looked down at the ground.
“Um, so…” The awkward tension in the room seemed to be choking his thought process. “We’re apparently related. Did you hear that?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Yeah, sort of like…second cousins. Pretty cool, don’t you think?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Why on earth do you keep saying that?”
“What, your majesty?” The kid looked scared now, worried he had something horrifically offensive.
“The whole “your majesty” and “sire” thing!” Ian exclaimed, mentally wincing over how difficult it was to talk to the boy. “Look kid, you can call me Ian when no one else is in the room. Getting all those titles thrown at me by even my family…well, that just makes me feel old and annoying. So call me Ian, okay?”
“As you wish, your majesty.”
Ian closed his eyes and focused on being calm, patient, kind, and very nice. Think cool, good thoughts. He told himself. Cool afternoons, no paperwork, rib eye steak. Feeling a bit calmer, he opened his eyes again. “So…hungry?” He asked.
The kid swung his arms minutely, bouncing ever so slightly, “Oh…no, not really…I…”
“Kid, you’re starved.” Ian stood and clapped a hand on the boy’s bony shoulder. It was meant to be a nice, manly gesture, but the effect was rather spoiled when he nearly knocked poor Phillip over. Ian hurriedly steadied him. “Whoa. Sorry. You okay? Yeah…I’ll watch out for where I slap you now.”
The kid appeared slightly horrified, and Ian hastily amended his statement. “I mean…clap you on the shoulder or something. You know, a manly sort of thing, thumping people on the back….STUFF GIRLS DON’T DO WHEN THEY GREET EACH OTHER, OKAY?”
From the blank look the kid was giving him, Ian’s explanation wasn’t really helping. He sighed, closed his eyes, and said, “Right. We…are going to go get some lunch. You like steak? Good, ‘cause we’re having steak. Oh, and one last thing. I’m going to call you Phil, or Kid. Whichever fits my mood. You are going to call me Ian. Doesn’t matter who’s standing nearby. Got it? You got it? Good.” With that abrupt note, he opened the door and pushed Phillip out gently but firmly.
Boy, these next few years are gonna be looooong.