Joseph was worried.
He wasn't sure why, other than a general feeling of tension in the presence of his employers that day. He'd accompanied King Rupert and Queen Clarisse to the ceremonial closing of the parliamentary session that morning. The Queen had been cheerful and smiling – always glad of the summer recess from the more strenuous duties of government. Since the King's heart attack the previous fall, Queen Clarisse had been responsible for a heavier load of the governmental work.
Rupert's doctors had pronounced him recovered from the attack, but he was still adjusting to his new lifestyle as a cardiac patient and would probably continue to share the reins of power with his wife from now on.
Clarisse had been secretly glad to assume a more direct role in the government. She was intelligent and curious by nature. She enjoyed the challenge of learning more about the intricate dance of diplomacy and the nature of a bureaucracy the size of the Genovian government. It was hard, exhausting work at times, but she enjoyed the sense of greater purpose that she felt now. The world of charity events and state hostess could be fulfilling, but she'd always wanted more.
In counter to Clarisse's mood, Rupert had seemed dark and testy. He didn't smile and seemed to pay only nominal attention to the final session's agenda. Following the official closing ceremony, the King seemed anxious to get through the throng of well-wishers and back to the limo. Clarisse noticed his mood and tried to move along with him, but she wasn't willing to totally ignore the law-makers and their staff members who wanted a moment to say hello or to offer congratulations.
Joseph knew when he'd started to become concerned about the situation. It was when one of the newest members of the legislature approached the Queen and offered his thanks for her support of a bill that fulfilled a promise he'd made to his constituents. Clarisse accepted his thanks graciously before turning to Rupert to present the young member to the King and explain that her support was only an extension of the King's own wishes.
Joseph happened to be in full view of the King's face during this exchange. Rupert's countenance darkened as he observed his wife in conversation with the young man. He made no move to intervene, but there was a look of malevolence on his face that Joseph had never seen before. He couldn't tell to whom the king was directing his gaze. And just as Clarisse turned towards him, the anger fell away, replaced by a mask of deep indifference.
Clarisse presented the young man to the king and seemed somewhat frustrated by the King's lack of warmth, but nothing more. She quickly followed Rupert outside to the waiting limo. Joseph followed along behind.
He tried to catch her eye in a silent question as he helped her into the waiting vehicle, but she was distracted and frowned concernedly towards her husband.
Joseph closed the limo door and tried to put the scene out of his mind. Anyone can have an off day, Joseph told himself as he settled into the front and gave the driver instructions. He's probably just tired.
In the back, Clarisse was trying to convincer herself of the same thing. Rupert had not spoken since they left the building. He stared unseeingly out the window on the drive back to the castle. Clarisse's attempts at conversation fell flat and she finally gave up and rode the rest of the way in silence.
Rupert's valet and secretary, as well as Clarisse's assistant Charlotte, greeted the limo as it purred to a stop in front of the south entrance. Joseph opened the door and handed Clarisse out into the sunshine. It was a gorgeous day.
Charlotte noticed the queen's smile as she surveyed the rose garden that stretched out from this side of the palace. "I've taken the liberty of asking that the cook serve Your Majesties' lunch on the balcony of your suite, Madame," Charlotte said.
Clarisse smiled warmly at her assistant. "That sounds perfect, Charlotte. Would you join me in half an hour, Rupert?"
"No, thank you," her husband responded rather stiffly. "I have some paperwork I need to finish, so I will have a working lunch in my office." He handed his hat and stick to the valet and indicated his secretary was to follow as he strode into the palace.
Joseph watched Clarisse carefully. He noticed the momentary flicker of disappointment and concern that crossed her face. Then she took a deep breath and turned to Joseph, just then realizing that her hand still rested lightly in his, his other hand still gently cupped her elbow as it always did when he helped her from the car. She smiled at him as she withdrew her hand. "Well, Joseph, would you and Charlotte like to join me for lunch?"
The three of them enjoyed a companionable meal, made even better by the warm spring sun which seemed to cleanse the air of worries or tension. Charlotte excused herself as soon as they finished dessert. She had some phone calls to return. Joseph got up to leave as well.
He was almost out the door when she called to him from the balcony. "Joseph – do you have a moment?"
"Of course, Your Majesty." He rejoined her, this time leaning against the railing, looking down into her troubled blue eyes.
She stared at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I don't know what's wrong with him. Do you have any idea?" Joseph knew immediately what she meant. He hoped his distaste for the king's actions hadn't been this obvious to anyone else.
"I honestly don't know Your Maj – Clarisse. Have you spoken with his doctor? Could the stress of winding up parliament be affecting his nerves?"
"No, I've spoken to no one. In fact, until this morning, I wasn't entirely sure that there was really anything wrong. I'm still not sure. But I know you noticed his behavior as well."
"I think I'll have Charlotte call the doctor this afternoon," she said to herself more than to him. Looking up again at Joseph, "Rupert hates for me to 'interfere', as he calls it. But I have to know if there is something we should be concerned about."
Joseph nodded and Clarisse rose. He waited for her to leave the balcony before following her back inside. Somewhere in the back of his mind he acknowledged that his duty to follow a few paces behind the Queen provided him an always advantageous view. Joseph cut off that train of thought rather violently before it had a chance to progress. He couldn't afford the luxuries of such thought.
Clarisse returned to her desk and sighed resignedly at the stacks of paperwork. She picked up the prioritized list Charlotte had prepared and groped absently for her glasses. Joseph paused at the corner of the desk and slid the glasses toward her hand. Her fingertips brushed the back of his hand and she looked up at him, somewhat startled. He gave her a small, grim smile and silently left the room.
Once the door closed behind him, he let out the breath he'd been holding. He knew he shouldn't do that, but he sometimes needed to reassure himself that she felt the same spark he did whenever they touched.
Evidently she did. He ran a hand over his face to hide his smile and walked purposely towards his office a few doors away.