“Will you return to court when the delegation leaves, Lady Bard? I still do not understand why my brother has allowed you to wander. He must have a specific goal in mind.”
Telyn hadn’t expected this line of questioning. She chose to answer honestly but with care. “I don’t know, Your Highness. I have taken the opportunity to travel the Wood. I made it to Ilparien before I turned back, and there is so much more to be seen.”
“What is it you are looking for?”
“To get to know the Wood and its people. To collect knowledge and determine the…state of things.” She kept her statement vague but truthful. It was not Marithiel’s business to know her goals were not by order of the King and related to the return of magic.
“Lord Harpmaster tells me you were apprenticed to him as a child,” Marithiel said thoughtfully, her voice laced with frost. “I can see you learned much from him. Both of you are skilled at saying a great deal without saying anything at all.”
“Forgive me, Your Highness. There are matters I cannot yet discuss. It is not by my choice.” Also true, given that Gwidion and Mithrais had not yet enlightened Marithiel or Gilmarion on magic’s return. Let Marithiel read into it what she wished.
“I see. We shall talk, then, about your duties for the duration of our guests’ visit. I had not intended to leave this to the last possible moment, but you haven’t been available. I want you to perform at the welcoming feast tomorrow and be available in the evenings for music should it be requested.”
Stunned, Telyn could only stammer, “You wish me to perform, Your Highness?”
“You are a bard, are you not?”
Telyn had hoped, despite Mithrais’ determination to have her beside him, she would be able to blend into the background whenever possible. Avoiding Lord Vuldur would be impossible with Marithiel bent on her services as a bard.
“Of course, Princess. I am happy to offer my talents to entertain your guests.” Telyn answered quickly although inside her, turmoil reigned. She took the slow breaths to trigger her disciplines and control the negative emotions, before they welled up into an acute anxiety.
“I expect you already know what to present in these circumstances.”
“Indeed, Your Highness. Such influences can be rendered when necessary if things become uncomfortable.”
“And why would they become uncomfortable at a welcoming feast?” Marithiel asked archly. Before Telyn could frame a hasty reply, she continued, “There will be no business conducted until later that afternoon. Lord Harpmaster is to attend us then. I require nothing but entertainment from you.”
“Yes, Your Highness. It will be a relief to offer music for pleasure alone.”
“I will provide maids to help you bathe and dress in the morning and to do something acceptable with that hair.” Marithiel gestured to the wind-blown braid from which Telyn’s profuse curls were escaping in wisps.
“You are most generous.” Telyn was still light-headed at the news she would perform for the man bent on her death.
“We will gather in the solar before the guests arrive. I will preside over the greeting in my husband’s stead since he is unfit to take part. Gilmarion and I will be at the front, and Mithrais a step behind. See that you are not late.”
“I will be there.” With Marithiel’s callous dismissal of Gwidion, she was fiercely glad that he would take back his rightful place. “Mithrais has said he expects me to be at his side.”
Marithiel eyed her for a moment while the seamstresses kept themselves busy and avoided her gaze. “Wait outside,” she ordered, and the women dropped what they were doing with hasty curtsies and fairly ran from the room. The door closed behind them. Telyn stepped down from the stool. She sensed what followed would not be positive.
“As far as I am concerned, your place in this household is of a professional nature. You are bound to serve the royal house, evidenced by the honor marks about your wrist. Although Mithrais may consider you his lifemate you are not his wife. There will be a match for him more suited to his rank one day, and it will be his duty to accept it. You might consider this before you attempt to take a place which will never be yours to keep.”
Her words were venomous, but in the ice-colored blue eyes, it wasn’t only disdain Telyn read there. It was bitter sorrow. In that moment, Telyn learned a great deal about Marithiel. The princess would soon see the man she had loved and been parted from through duty to the royal house—even though she’d been with child. It could not be an easy thing.
“I have considered it, Your Highness,” she confessed softly. “But until the time comes, I will spend every moment I can at his side. I think you of all women can understand.”
Marithiel stared back at her and blinked. “Do not presume you know anything about me, Lady Bard.” She turned and swept out of the room, a force of nature in a small body.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish