Betaed by the lovely Maddy, who also has marriage rights to/possession of Douglass.

This is a one-shot; no further chapters.

Maura edged closer to the banister, her breath catching in her throat. Directly below her was Sir Raoul, sitting in one of the chairs by the fire, throwing back his head, his laughter seeming to reverberate through her very bones. She couldn't see his companion save for the back of a blond head. Raoul had told her last week that the King was sending one of his trusted advisers to look after her.

She shifted closer to the edge, gripping the banister rail tightly in both hands. A king's adviser. He would have thick eyebrows, perfect for knitting together in concentration, and a lined forehead, as a result of all the frowning he did. He would have thin lips because he wouldn't need to smile much, and a square chin that he would be fond of stroking.

Carefully, Maura angled her head between the banister supports so her left ear was right above the two men.

"Unaffected, even after years of living with Gary," the stranger was saying. He didn't have the thin, reedy voice Maura had been expecting, but a cheerful tone that made his every word sound like a joke.

Raoul snorted. "I have to say, I don't think the entire Carthaki navy would have any effect on you."

"Oh, stop it, Raoul, you charmer. You'll make me blush." There was a pause and Maura held her breath, as though they might hear her otherwise. Just as she thought she might burst, the blond man spoke again. "Now, what's the girl like?"

Maura sat up abruptly, smacking her head against the banister rail. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she brushed them away. Before she could decide whether she wanted to listen any more or not, she heard Raoul saying, "Oh, she's very sweet, eager to please, a little shy. Actually, she blew up a couple of buildings singlehandedly."

Maura flushed with pride at the memory.

"Sounds like my kind of girl," the adviser said, sounding impressed.

"Behave," Raoul said warningly. "No talk of - of anything. She's not used to your sort. Jon says he'll send Sacherell to keep you in order if you don't."

This time, the man sounded hurt as he spoke. Maura wondered what his type was. She'd have to ask. "You think Sacherell would make me behave? The same Sacherell who made the stables collapse?"

"That was an earthquake," replied Raoul. His body language belied his casual tone; he straightened up in his seat, and Maura could almost feel the suspicious look he was evidently bestowing on his companion.

The other man coughed in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise a snigger. "Oh, yes, right you are, Sir, how silly of me. You can tell Jon that the thought of having Sacherell here makes me quiver in my dainty slippers."

A helpless giggle escaped Maura; she stuffed her sleeve in her mouth to muffle the sound a second too late.

Silence fell, then - "Anyway, I think we've spent enough time chatting. Are you ready to meet her?"

No sound of either affirmation or refusal followed. Maura stood and peered over the rail, seeing no sign of the two men. Maybe they had already gone to find her.

She sighed and began to walk down the stairs, colliding with something on the seventh step that shouldn't have been there.

She backed away and discovered the something was somebody, a blond man - the blond man? He didn't look at all like she had imagined, more like a kindly uncle than a king's adviser. He had level eyebrows, was rather plump, and had a grin so wide it looked like it was splitting his face.

"So, Maura. We meet at last."

She curtsied awkwardly, wondering if he knew she'd been spying on him. "What's your name?" she asked politely.

"King Jonathan," he answered, giving her a conspiratorial wink. "At your service, Lady Maura." He bowed deeply to her.

She fixed him with a shrewd look. "That's not true."

"Oh, it is, it is!" he insisted, clapping a hand over his heart, the other staying behind his back. "I've had to go into hiding because that impostor threatened to - to-"

"To what?" she asked, not entirely sure whether or not to believe him, but nevertheless intrigued.

He placed his hand, palm up, against his forehead. "To ensure Lord Theodore was cut into quarters with the stuffing pulled out of him," he said tearfully. Maura's eyes rounded. "I just couldn't let him do that to Teddy," he continued, pulling a stuffed bear out from behind his back. "We're in hiding."

Maura stared at him, stared at Lord Theodore, and then burst out laughing.

The man's grin returned. He bowed once more. "Until my throne is restored, I am Sir Douglass of Veldine, yours to command."