She asked, “Are they relations of yours?”

“Relations of…? No, my dear.” Sir Redmond seemed to be hiding a smile as though she had amused him. “No, I can claim many grand things in my lineage, but to my knowledge I’ve no claim to royalty. That,” he said, giving a nod to the portraits, “is our good King James when a boy, and his sister the Princess Louise Marie, God rest her soul.”

Mary had no memory of the princess, having been not two years old when smallpox had descended upon Saint-Germain-en-Laye and struck the young King James and his beloved sister, among others. But she’d heard the stories. Mary’s aunt had often spoken of the day the princess died, when no one told the ailing king for fear that knowing he had lost his only sibling and his close companion would destroy his own will to recover. Her aunt, who had a weakness for a tragic tale, had said to Mary once, “You’ve never seen a man in such pain as the king was on the day they judged him well enough to hear the sad news. He had loved her so, and it was terrible to watch his grief.”

The king had then been four and twenty years of age, the princess not much younger than herself, thought Mary. Looking to where Nicolas was sitting with his gaze upon the shifting fire, she wondered whether he would grieve her death so deeply, if she were to die as the princess had died, before she’d truly had a chance to live.

She doubted he would have considered her his close companion, nor was she his only sibling, but he’d thought enough of her to fetch her home to live with him, which told her he must hold her dear, or else he would have left her where she was and not increased his household burdens and expenditures.

As though he felt her watching him, he turned his head and smiled a little. “You were nearly named Louise Marie. Our mother much admired the princess.”

Sir Redmond with his focus on the portraits said, “She was a lovely child. As was the king. And I gather his own sons, the princes, are handsome as well. Is that not so?”

“They are fine lads, both of them.” Nicolas nodded. “The king and queen dote on them.”

“God bless them and keep them. A family,” Sir Redmond remarked, “is a very great thing.” He opened his snuffbox and held it to Mary. “It’s fine Barcelona, my dear, you may take it with no fear of sneezing. No?” He offered it next to her brother, who did take some, dipping a small measure out of the box with a tiny pipe. Sir Redmond leaned back in his chair and did the same, tapping the snuff to the back of his hand before sniffing it in and replacing the box in his pocket while taking his handkerchief out. He did not sneeze as many men did, but he did wipe his nose before saying again, “Yes, a family’s a very great thing, Mistress Dundas. Do you not agree?”

Mary looked to her brother, and feeling the warmth of his encouragement beside her answered, “Yes, sir, I do. Most wholeheartedly.”

“For my own part, there is little that I would not do for the love of my family,” Sir Redmond said. “Their cause is my cause; their need is my own. Do you feel the same way?”

Mary wasn’t entirely sure why the older man wanted to know her opinion, but she told him, “Yes, sir.”

His eyes held approval. The fire had started to settle, and taking the poker in hand he leaned forward to stir the flames higher. “Your family has long served the king, Mistress Dundas. If he were in need of your services now, would you help him?”

She frowned faintly, not understanding. “I’m sure I could be of no help to the king.”

“If you could be,” he pressed her, “what would you do then? Would you honor your family and keep to their path?”

She glanced sideways at Nicolas only to find he was looking deliberately into the fire, and away from her. Mary said slowly, “I hope I would always remember my family and honor them, sir, if I could. But I—”

“Ask her more plainly,” said Nicolas in a low voice to Sir Redmond. “She has the intelligence to understand.”

Still confused, Mary looked to the Irishman who smiled kindly and set down the poker.

“There is at this moment in Paris,” Sir Redmond told Mary, “a man whose affairs are of interest to King James. This man is now sought by the English, and must be protected. I do have a plan for this, but I require your help.”

“My help?” Mary considered this such an unlikely request she was frankly astonished. “But how?”

“I can tell you no details beyond that you would be expected to live for a short while in Paris, my dear, and to keep a great secret. It’s very important.”

She felt a small thrill in her breast. Her help. Keeping a secret. Mere hours ago she had talked with and watched Mistress Jamieson, feeling quite certain she’d never be able to be as adventurous nor half as brave, and now here she was being told she might be given the chance to do just that. And in Paris, where she’d so long dreamed of going.

Sir Redmond asked, “Will you do it?”

“Yes.” She got the word out before indecision could hold it back. “Yes, sir, I will.”

“Splendid.” Sir Redmond turned his attention to Nicolas, who was still watching the fire.

Mary thought she knew, now, why her brother had seemed so distracted. He clearly was not in approval of Sir Redmond’s plan of her going to Paris and would have preferred she returned with him to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, although his loyalty to king and cause left him duty bound not to complain. She was trying to find the right speech to assure him her choice would amount to no more than a minor delay of his plans, when Sir Redmond spoke first.

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