The Wild Swans (Timeless Fairy Tales, #2)
“One of your underlings made a mistake, Dewdrop. The royal fields yielded a higher income in wheat than what is recorded.”
The use of a sardonic nickname and the know-it-all tone Falk adopted as he stabbed his finger at the recorded accounts set Elise on edge.
“You are correct, brother. However, the recorded number is the gross profit. The number is derived after paying the farmers, subtracting the cost of seed, and so on. Also, I’m afraid if there is a mistake in the agricultural accounts, you have me to blame as I was the only member of the Treasury Department to work on them,” Elise said.
As if she would inflict Falk on any of her subordinates. Hah!
Falk leaned back in his chair. “I am not your brother, Sweetling.”
“I apologize, Prince Falk,” Elise said as she fixed a smile on her face, wished Falk would go away, and forced her head down so she could continue copy-editing the Gold Army accounts.
Elise loved her job as head of the Treasury Department. She loved numbers and finances. They always behaved as expected, and if something was wrong, the mistake could be traced. Furthermore, her position spoke volumes of the trust King Henrik placed in her. He might not love her enough to adopt her—only to claim her as the royal family’s foster child—but he had so much faith in her that he charged her with building and distributing Arcainia’s wealth.
However, on the days Prince Falk, one of her foster brothers, chose to visit her office to discuss the Agriculture Department’s accounts, Elise wished King Henrik had trusted someone else with the task.
“How long did it take you to complete the Agriculture Department’s audit?” Falk asked, turning a page.
“I can’t say I took note of it. May I inquire why the length of time would make a difference?” Elise asked.
“Don’t worry your pretty, little head, Fawn. I was only attempting to make polite conversation.”
Elise very much doubted this, but she let the matter go. “Of course.”
One of Elise’s secretaries stood in the open doorway and tapped on the wall to announce her presence “Fürstin,” she said, drawing Elise’s attention. For some reason beyond her understanding, Elise’s subordinates went through extraordinary efforts to use old titles of nobility whenever one of her foster brothers was around. Elise’s title of Fürstin was commonly translated to princess, but beyond signifying she was a child of royalty, it also meant she was the head of her family. As the royal family hadn’t adopted her, this meant she outranked all but her eldest foster brother, the crown prince.
“Fürstin,” the secretary repeated. “The Kronprinz is—,”
“I can announce myself, thank you. Elise, that bloated pig has gone too far. Hello, Falk,” Steffen, the crown prince, said as he edged his way into Elise’s office.
Elise folded her hands in her lap. “Who is a bloated pig?”
Steffen ran a hand through his hair, mussing it. The gesture gave away his frustration. Typically Steffen looked as perfect as the portrait of him that hung in the main gallery. Every piece of his blonde hair was always settled in place; his uniform was never crooked; and his eyes crinkled with the slight, perpetual smile he constantly wore. Now, his eyes were uncharacteristically narrowed as he snapped, “The prince of Loire.”
“Which prince?” Elise asked.
“The legitimate one. His father has asked us to give you over in marriage to that empty-headed buffoon.”
“Fürstin,” the secretary, who still hovered at the doorway, said. “Would you like me to call for refreshments?”
“Yes, please. Thank you, Gretta,” Elise said, rearranging her papers.
The secretary bobbed a curtsey and disappeared from view.
“Aren’t you offended?” Steffen asked, striking Elise’s desk with a rolled up paper.
“The buffoon to which you are referring is the heir to the throne of a country that is three to four times as large as our beloved Arcainia. No, I cannot say I am the least bit offended,” Elise said.
Falk, the stark opposite of his brother in resemblance and temperament, raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
“Aren’t you even surprised?” Steffen asked.