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Family Portrait

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“Must you huff and puff like that, Carolyn?” Douglas murmured, eyes forward but very aware of her presence next to him. “I don’t think you’ll manage to blow the house down. Castles are more sturdily built than your average pigsty.”

“More’s the pity,” came the reply. “What’s taking them so long? I thought we were sitting for a photograph, not an oil painting.”

“It’s Herr Büchel,” Martin hissed, from the row in front. “He’s a bit of a perfectionist.”

Douglas sucked in his teeth. “Coming from you! Gosh.”

“I didn’t say he was wrong to be,” Martin said, wounded. Then he grinned. “He’s definitely taking his time, though. Probably scared that if he doesn’t light it properly, one of the King’s pimples will show up.”

Theresa stifled a giggle. “Martin, don’t. It’s hard enough to keep a straight face as it is.”

They all followed her gaze to where Arthur was, behind the photographer’s equipment, earnestly trying to get the baby to smile by capering about and waving, not to mention making faces. All this despite the fact that the newborn princess Aida, in whose honour the portrait was being taken, was a) unable to see so far yet, b) not quite in control of her facial muscles and in any case c) asleep.

“Bless him,” said Wendy, from her vantage point on Martin’s right-hand side. “It’s such a shame he can’t be in the photo.”

“Oh, he’ll stick himself in somehow,” said Carolyn. “His collaging skills are second to none. Three hundredth to quite a few, mind.”

“We did try to sneak him onto the list,” Martin added. “But Maxie persists in claiming that Royal Godbrother isn’t a real position.”

“Well, it isn’t,” Carolyn said, “to be absolutely fair. But in all honesty, Martin, if you’d told me how tedious all this would be, I’m not sure I’d have agreed to mine. Hold on, what’s he doing now?”

The photographer had returned from his lighting retreat and was standing in front of the party, hands on hips. He said something in German, and pointed at two of Theresa’s sisters. They promptly swapped places.

“Oh, yes,” Theresa mumbled sarcastically. “Make sure to have Mathilde and Margaretha the right way round.”

“Crucial to the whole operation,” Martin agreed.

“They look exactly the same,” Carolyn said bluntly.

“Yes, they’re identical twins,” Martin explained over his shoulder. “God knows what difference it makes. Oh, I think he’s ready now. Here comes Maxie.”

The King entered, and took his place next to Theresa. He seemed slightly ruffled to be positioned off-centre, and threw a hurt look at his young niece as if she had done it on purpose.

A few seconds after he had sat down, he squawked something that sounded very regal and impatient, and Herr Büchel went hurriedly to his stand. Arthur, behind him, stood to his fullest height and yelled, “CASE!”

“Aaah,” Martin said, over the confused murmurs that followed. “So that’s why he texted me this morning and asked what the German for ‘cheese’ was. I should have sent it as a voice memo, perhaps.”

“That would have solved everything,” Douglas remarked.

“Oh, just shut up and smile, would you?” said Carolyn. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Inspiring words from the Royal Godmother.”

“A clip on the ear for the Royal Godfather, if he doesn’t toe the line.”

Douglas faced the front again with a genuine grin.