Having returned to Ishan’s offices, Fane was at a loss regarding what he was supposed to do. He was no bodyguard. He was neither certified nor trained as one. He was an ammo tech and dive instructor. He monitored the armoury. He cleaned and accounted for everything. He taught people how to not drown when in a simulated helicopter water crash.
He knew how to protect himself, but another person? He expressed as much to the Prince when the door to the office closed.
The Prince sat down into his rolling leather chair and contemplated Fane for a while. Seething pain crawled up his side under that analysis. Prince Orlov opened his mouth once, then closed it. He let out a contemplative sigh and pressed a button on a pad on his desk.
Fane listened carefully but didn’t hear a ring. A set of footsteps signalled someone approaching. He immediately reached for his back but had to remind himself he didn’t have his back knife. He switched for the harness under his arm where a Glock waited.
A knock at the door signalled the person had arrived. Fane glanced to Prince Orlov. The man appeared at ease. Fane relaxed, shifting to a shadowed corner of the office where he had a clean line of sight of the door. The door clicked, and a maid entered. “Prince Ishan?” The woman asked sweetly. She wore a simple light blue kurti and black dhoti all the maids wore as uniforms. “A black coffee, hot tea, and biscuits, if you would please,” the Prince requested as he reached for a packet of papers in a wire rack on his desk. She dropped a soft curtsy and left immediately. Fane shifted around the room when she left.
Ishan had his desk positioned to face the door. To his right was the south-facing windows. Behind him sat the bookshelves and the small conference table they had lunched at the day before. Fane took in the view below the window, calculating. If he had to act as a bodyguard, he should know the weaknesses of the room he was occupying for the moment. He wanted a good vantage, somewhere with a view of both the outside where someone could set up a snipe-nest and the doors into the office. The room was expansive enough to house a small family. It contained paintings and sculptures in an alcove to the right of the double doors leading to the hallway. The bookshelves started on the north wall and wrapped around to the back wall. The bookshelves were predominantly lined with books in several languages, but small trinkets occupied space on top of books too long to be stood upright in the cubbies.
Initially, Fane had ignored the art, only calculating the room. He continued pacing off the room when the maid returned with a tray of cups and pots. A china blue plate was laden with breakfast biscuits. He watched Ishan pick out the chocolate covered ones and pour himself a cup of tea. “Want some?” he motioned Fane to the plate.
“I’m all right, but thanks.” Fane shook his head.
“For the moment, I’ll be working through these tax papers. When I get through most of the pile, or when eleven rolls around, stop me so I can order lunch.” Prince Orlov sat back down behind his desk to nibble at the biscuits.
“Yes, Mr Orlov.” Fane slunk further into the shadow, getting comfy. He watched the minutes pass by. He was at a good vantage. The window overlooked a section of the garden that had a small road for the delivery trucks for the palace. He memorised every emblem on every delivery vehicle and the gardeners managing the planting of annuals and resetting the sprinkler system. Out of the corner of his eye, he considered the man at the desk who had lost his attention for the paper in his hand, instead taking in the statue in the alcove.
That pain in Fane’s side sizzled as he watched the Prince brush loose hair behind his ear. The man, returning to the stacks at hand, continued to jot notes, sign papers and shred others. He had a habit of gently chewing on his pen cap when he was reading long forms. His perfectly white teeth were a fixation for Fane. A burn wrapped into his gut.
He turned his attention to the room. He knew the location of every book. The longer he maintained his position, the more information he could retain on the space. The paintings and the sculpture were proving fascinating and not helping the splintering heat under his scars.
The male statue was two-thirds the height of a living person. He leaned against a broken tree trunk, and an arrow protruded from his right side. On either side of the alcove were a pair of paintings Fane suspected of the same individual. Executed differently, he assumed they were by different artists, but both portrayed a copper-haired, bearded man with statues in his hand.
“Vittoria.” The Prince interrupted Fane’s observations, startling him. “I like his work. They are just reproductions, though. Too expensive to get the real, and San Sebastiano is too big for that alcove.” The Prince provided Fane while still skipping through paper after paper.
Eventually, a knock came at the door. The inundated royal looked up from his paperwork in exhausted frustration and glanced at his agenda. Sighing, he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“Sir?” Fane asked.
“It’s all right. Come in!” Orlov called out. Fane’s hand eased to the gun in its harness. A small man in a tan Shalwar suit pushed the door open timidly. In his hand was a thin wooden box. He greeted the Prince with a broad smile and flamboyant bow. Fane eased up next to the man without observation. He wasn’t keen on the concept of a bomb getting near the Prince.
The Prince’s eyes flickered up to Fane, who had been able to get behind the small man. His bodyguard was peering at the man and the box carefully. Orlov said something softly to the small man. The man replied back, a bright smile flashing across his face, obviously pleased. The man walked closer to the Prince, and Fane couldn’t keep blood from hammering in his ears.
The small man set the box on the desk and stepped back from it. Fane watched the Prince for a signal to check it. He had enough training in detecting and dismantling bombs that he felt confident not to blow the room sky high if presented with the problem.
“Mr Anson.” Orlov motioned him to the box. Fane sucked in his breath. The small man jumped. He hadn’t realised Fane was standing so close to him. He eased to the side, beaming, waving to the box and saying something over and over again happily. Fane looked to the Prince, wary. He approached the box and observed it, looking for any visual clues about what might be within it. He tested his fingers along the edges when he no longer felt that he could see any problems. It was well made and of good quality. He didn’t find any traps or anything to indicate it had a weight sensor in it activated by being placed on the desk.
His throat clicked as he tried to swallow. He gently flipped the hinges on either side of the handle. He observed his every movement, every clue that box lid held as he opened it. Inside was an absolutely magnificent knife, scabbard, and harness. It was a rich full-grain mahogany coloured leather and brass buckling shoulder to back harness. A pattern was carefully pressed along the front of the harness that would go across the chest. It was fitted similar to a shoulder sash. The sheath was similar to the harness in attention to detail.
The knife was something altogether breathtaking. It was a fixed blade with a full tang. The handle, for the elegance of the blade design and the suppleness and luxury of the leather harness, was comprised of G-10 with an intricate moulding red inlay on black that matched the pattern of the leather harness. It was a perfect weapon.
“ATS 34 steel.” Orlov watched Fane’s fixation on the weapon.
“A good grade. It’ll be a great investment for someone. If you don’t mind, I’ll finish checking the box.” Fane leaned forward to remove the materials.
“I hope you enjoy it.” The Prince smiled, watching Fane’s hands handle the materials reverently.
Fane looked up, startled. “Sir?”
“It’s yours, Mr Anson.” Orlov motioned to the harness and knife.
“I couldn’t possibly, Mr Orlov. This is too much for me.” Fane tried to wave the gift off.
“I hope to see you wear it and use it to protect me. I had it designed so that it would work well with your new clothes. I realise that our traditional dress does not easily incorporate a lot of your preferred weapons. Ajay also mentioned your disappointment when you found a back sheath in the armoury that wasn’t well maintained or something. Try it on.” The Prince waved toward the knife.
The small man beamed up at Fane. He suspected the man was probably the one who created the harness for the blade. He slipped the sash over his head. It was a bit too big. The creator chatted at him quickly, and Fane looked to the Prince for assistance. The man dragged a chair to Fane and stood on it. He adjusted the buckles along his shoulder until it fit comfortably.
The man again said something proudly to Fane before stepping down from the chair. Fane couldn’t remember the last time a grown man had to actually use something to stand taller than him. The man beamed at the Prince, who shook his hand before leaving.
“Thank you, sir. You really shouldn’t have.” Fane tried to hide a sudden burst of emotions. It fit beautifully. He reached to his back, and the knife was there, almost begging to be pulled. The Prince motioned for him to test it, sitting back to watch Fane appreciatively.
Fane stepped back from the desk and eased into a kokutsu dachi. He pulled the blade smoothly into a block, dropping lower into his stance, visualising someone coming at him. The shine of the blade glinted in the morning. He spun backwards, forcing himself into a zen kutsu dachi, punching out with his right. The edge practically sang in his hand. He returned back to a formal stance.
The Prince was staring intently at him. That burning surge in his side came back at the look of warm honey in the man’s eyes. He resheathed the blade, never dropping the man’s gaze. Heat crept up his neck, and a throb resonated within him, rocking him to the core.
“Lunch?” Prince Orlov offered.
Fane swallowed, wetted his lips, and nodded. “I’m sorry for the distraction.”
“No distraction. He was scheduled to show up.” The Prince’s eyes dashing away as he tucked a pesky stray hair behind his ear.
That pain in Fane’s side throbbed. He needed to finish lunch and switch Ajay quickly before it got worse.
“Here.” Orlov held out his agenda to Fane, “Memorise my schedule for the week. You’ll be doing the morning shift, and Ajay takes over in the afternoon. That way you’ll be less surprised by people showing up out of the blue. My amanuensis also has the agenda and can make a copy for you if you need it. Her name’s Griyashi. She’s the lady you pass every time you come in here. You’ll deal with her coming in taking dictation if you decide to remain a bodyguard for me long.”
“Ah. I had been wondering who she was. I’ll introduce myself when I head for my language class today.” Fane took the notebook and glanced down at the tight handwriting. It was filled with details, deadlines, meetings, memos and reminders. He had them memorised in half a heartbeat before handing back the notebook. “Do any of your meetings worry you?”
“Two. One is with an oil Baron I will be seeing Friday morning. We have the formal dinner party that evening, and I don’t want to come away from that meeting with failure,” the Prince bit out, frustration running rigid under his pressed suit jacket.
“He has been difficult before?” Fane prompted.
“He has tried to divide our people with greed. He has to be handled with kid gloves.” The Prince leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling.
“He wouldn’t try to kill or maim you, though?” Fane asked, a layer of concern wrapped in his voice.
“No, I don’t think he’d sink that low. It would benefit him more to crash my family into the ground with tact than to actually terrorise us.” He rubbed at his neck.
“The other meeting?” Fane logged the information.
“A shipping magnate looking for a new route. We have a couple going through our city. The man is eager to have us grant him a permit to ship through us. We run the risk, if he’s shipping anything illegal, of incurring problems. It’s a balancing act to keep the people of the city happy with us.
“Another shipping route may bring in more money, but at what cost? The last time we allowed someone into the shipping route, we lost quite a few young girls off the streets. It was later that we found they were using the shipping route for human trafficking. We suffered greatly. Some girls were rescued, but many had come off the streets and didn’t have anywhere to return to. I had a fund set up for them. Several work as maids here now.” Ishan sighed, glancing at the door.
“This shipping magnate can be a risk because you don’t trust him?” Fane clarified.
Ishan glanced at him, his lips flattening. “I don’t trust a lot of people readily. Growing up royal makes you sceptical of what people want from you.”
“And me?” Fane raised an eyebrow.
The Prince appraised him for a moment, his amber eyes glinting. “You disregarded my position to make yourself as clear as possible who and what you are. You didn’t ask me for anything but still came to me when asked. I’d say, at this moment, I trust you as much as I trust Ajay.” Prince Orlov held Fane’s gaze until the soldier looked away.
“When is the shipping magnate’s appointment?” Fane cleared his throat while surveying an argument between two guards in the road below. A van sat idling on the gravel. He flipped through the agenda in his mind as he watched the men bicker. The delivery driver got out of the vehicle and gave one of the guards a folder of documents. The other guard snatched it to rifle through it furiously. A call on a walkie-talkie left the guard handing the file back to the driver and pointing him off the to the backside of the palace. The guard who had first had the document shouted at his companion after the van left before marching off to follow the van.
“Tomorrow in the afternoon. Ajay will be with me then.” The Prince turned to his phone and pressed one of the speed dial buttons. Someone must have picked up immediately. The Prince gave a couple of sentences. Fane could only wish he understood what was going on. He was going to work hard with his teacher that afternoon. He was determined not to be left in the dark any more than utterly necessary.
“Lunch will be up in a moment.” Orlov picked up another stack of papers, dismissing Fane back to his corner. Fane moved the box from the Prince’s desk and set it to the side of his chair in the corner. He’d take that back to his room with him before his lessons.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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