Your grace, I implore you to tell the whereabouts of my relatives. My sister and her wife, their two sons were in the care of your household, but nothing has been heard or seen in a fortnight and I am worried. A sennight without word is not uncommon, but twice that?

Benevolent Lady Heather looked up from the papers on her desk at the man begging her. Leave her word, her answer.The man who identified himself as Master Tim of North Way didn’t look like the usual overfed, unfit northerners she was used to. He was wiry – like a lumberjack – and had the drawn face of one who ate little fat and no sugar. His teeth were strong but crooked. His voice, though, had the swift twang of those raised in the North – the wide vowels, dropped Rs and clear annunciation of those raised in the provinces north of the capitol.

I have nothing against you North people – we have good relations with your representative at court, but no one of your descent is in my household at this time, in care or in service.

Tim held his tongue, but considered the tense her grace used – is in my household. He took a different tack. ‘My sister and her family came from out the West – she no longer looks or sounds much like a Northman and her wife is a Westerner by descent and their sons by birth and upbringing. They’ll have had the red irises of the West.

No, Master Tim, I don’t know of the family you speak of . There’s a register you can read that details the comings and goings – the arrivals and departures – of our staff. When did they arrive? Time me the year and I’ll have my chief of staff bring the volume.

They arrived before the harvest in the third year of your reign, your grace.