Charles leaned into the stiff breeze from the port, fondling the silky ear of the red spaniel in his arms as they walked across the parade grounds of King’s House. Ironically, the palace was his brother’s, not his, for all that Charles was king. Ah well, he had plenty of palaces now, not like their days in exile. When his fingers stopped, Rogue the Fourth pushed his cold little nose into the king’s palm. Rogue was showing his age, and had gotten worn out halfway through their walk around Portsmouth. By contrast, Babette and Bacchus were dashing around in a flurry of black and white fur and gave no signs of tiring. At his side, James kept his silence, which Charles appreciated. Trust James to read a situation correctly.
Of course, his keen understanding was why Charles had chosen him to be his best man for his marriage to Catherine. Od’s blood, but she was more like a doll than a bride. Still, with the state of Britain’s finances, she could have been a doll in truth, and her dowry would have made wedding her worthwhile. It was not as if he would lack other opportunities for sport. He sighed. In truth, his preferred sport would be in short supply until after Barbara’s confinement.
The clear spring morning seemed to have been ordered especial for the day. It was the sort of day on which one went on a picnic with a beloved companion—or it was the sort of day on which a king married his queen. The contract alone would not suffice to make the marriage binding and, Lord knew, he had put off the ceremony longer than he ought.
James cleared his throat. “Lord Aubigny seems none too happy.”
Charles lifted his head. They were turning the corner into the yard of King’s House, and on the broad stone stairs, Lord Aubigny waited with a crease between his brows. Crouching to set Rogue on the ground, Charles bent his head to the elderly dog so he need not acknowledge the peer on the stairs. “See to him, would you, James?”
Likely he had not needed to ask, but it was nice to offer James permission to act sometimes. Giving Charles time to collect himself, James walked briskly to the stairs, nearly tripping as Babette and Bacchus dashed past him. Rogue waited, panting on the grass by Charles.
Charles gave him a final pat. “Shall we, little man?”
The dog wagged his tail vigorously and hopped to all fours as Charles stood, then trotted along at his feet as if he had not been tired from the walk.
James turned from Aubigny and gestured for Charles to join them. Lord, but he had hoped it was some minor detail that did not require his attention. Keeping a placid expression, Charles followed his dogs up the steps to where the two men waited.
Aubigny swept into a low bow. “Your Majesty, a word, if I might?”
“Only a single word?” Charles smiled to mask his unease. The man was one of Catherine’s almoners; he should not already require funds. She had arrived no more than a week ago and, having presented him only half her dowry, could not possibly have the effrontery to ask him for money. “I do not want to keep my queen waiting, so will grant you one. Mind you, one word only.”
Aubigny pursed his lips. Tucking in his chin, he glanced over Charles’s shoulder as if considering his choices. At last he faced the king and said, “Catholic.”
Charles’s heart leapt sideways in his chest. He swallowed. The disaster his mother had made of things with her insistence on Catholicism had led by steady steps to the end of his father’s reign. “You have my attention. Pray, feel free to use more words to elaborate.”
Leaning closer, Aubigny murmured, “Your bride . . . She has requested a Catholic ceremony.”
Under the pretense of petting Rogue, Charles bent to give himself time to consider. The dog stood on his hind legs to meet his master’s hands, closing his eyes with pleasure as Charles scratched his ears. He had a certain amount of sympathy for Catherine in this matter. If she were truly devout, then it stood to reason that her faith would extend to this sacrament also. But England would not regard the matter as anything but Charles breaking with the Anglican Church. With the monarchy so recently restored, he could ill afford to jeopardize his people’s faith in him. He straightened. “The country will not stand for it.”
“I know, sire, and to her credit, Catherine does as well. She will go through with an Anglican ceremony, but will not regard herself as married unless it is also done by a Catholic ceremony.”
“Ah.” Charles narrowed his eyes at the man. “And presumably you have discussed this with her at some length.”
Aubigny swallowed. “Indeed.”
He glanced to James. “Some warning might have been appropriate.”
“What, would you have hurried the faster from your mistress’s side? You left her to wait a full week.”
“A week in which you might have discovered many things about my bride.”
James spread his hands, shaking his head. “As far as I knew she was aware that she was marrying...