Kasimir had never been very good at chess. When he had already lost three pieces, he thought it might be a good time to try to duck out.
‘Father, may I remind you that I really don't like this game so much. You can't expect me to replace Adalberht in everything.’
The king looked at him with angry eyes. He was also angry at himself for missing his other son. It was true that, as a chess opponent, he was much better company than Kasimir.
‘Fine, then,’ he said, getting up from the small marble chess table.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
‘Why to the north? Adalberht hates cold weather.’
The king was annoyed by Kasimir's questions, which, although not numerous, put him in an uncomfortable situation, highly irritating.
‘How should I know? He wanted to rebel, to run away from everything. He surely thinks that there he will find other uncivilized people like him, who will take him in... and so he will be at ease.’
Kasimir, despite feeling great about his new position as heir to the throne, wasn't really convinced by his father's explanations regarding this matter. He was well aware of Adalberht's objections to the king's policy —even to his own eventual inheritance of the power to rule the country. But this sudden disappearance was not like his brother. He wouldn't have been surprised if Adalberht had finally ceded his principality to him, seeing the way things were going, despite the shock and the embarrassment that such a decision would have caused to their father. But running away like that, in the middle of the night, like a despicable traitor, was too cowardly, even for his brother.
On the other hand, branding Adalberht as uncivilized might be a bit too much. He was questioning ancient, untouchable customs, yes. Nevertheless, Kasimir knew —even if he would never admit it out loud— that his brother was, in general, a more sensible and calmer person than he was.
It definitely did not make sense to him. That is why he had come to his own conclusion.
‘Who do you think you're fooling?’ he asked his mother later, after dinner, before the king came to the hall. ‘Adalberht leaves just when Flora has decided to go away, to the home of some relatives I've never even heard about? Really, Mother, you’re insulting my intelligence.’
The Duchess fixed her piercing grey eyes on his, with the hope that Kasimir were not stepping into dangerous sands.
The last thing she needed now was for him to become another problem to be solved.
‘They're together, aren't they?’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked cautiously.
‘Adalberht and Flora. They've run away together, haven't they? After all, they are not brother and sister. They met, they liked each other... and you and the king have hit the roof, as always.’
Young Kasimir, despite having been at the palace for only a few years —since the Queen's death— and having gotten to know his father only through sporadic, very sporadic, visits during more than half of his life, always thought of the three of them as constituting something very similar to a family.
Poor and naive Kasimir, thought Wilhelmina. At least, he wasn't a threat in any sense. In fact, his theory would not have been a bad excuse in the beginning. But now, it was better not to fall into any contradictions or denials.
‘I'm afraid the truth is less exciting than what may cross that sweet head of yours. Your brother and sister have not eloped in order to satisfy any passionate feelings for each other. And, you are right. They are not related. So, why would they find any opposition in such a case as that? Flora is just where she ought to be: improving her education under the guidance of people who are wholly trusted by me. People whom you will eventually get the chance to become acquainted with. As regards the prince…’ She immediately regretted the word: her son was now the Prince and he should feel as such. ‘Adalberht... Well, he is probably... I don't know. What do we care? He was never qualified for the position that is, at last, yours. Destiny has put everyone in their places; that's all.’
Yes, but how?
That question wasn't actually made by the new Prince. Sometimes, his instinct told him that it was wisest not to make too many inquiries —especially if he had the wind behind him.
However, Kasimir was not the only one to whom Flora's disappearance seemed strange, much as the duchess would dislike it. And it was right at that moment that she discovered it. At the usual time, the servant arrived to serve them a glass of liqueur; but his expression —though concealed— did not escape the shrewd lady. He had clearly heard at least part of the conversation, and he was not indifferent to it.
Kasimir was already talking about something else, something unimportant, to which the duchess was not paying any attention. Instead, she watched the servant for the whole of the short time that he took to pour the drink into the two glasses.