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this one is not to my taste." Mistress Greal's expression turned cold as Melli
spoke.
"Nonsense, this dress suits you fine. You should be grateful! That dirty thing
you wore is not a patch on this one for quality." Melli had to bite her lip.
Torn and dirty though her dress was, it was made from the finest lambswool and
was by far the better quality of the two. However, Melli knew better than to
speak of such things. She did not want Mistress Greal to know of her former
position as a lady of the court.
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Mistress Greal seemed to regret her sharp words, and when she spoke again it
was in a more beguiling tone. "Perhaps you would care to join me for a sup of
ale in the tavern?" Melli most definitely did not wish to do so.
"I would prefer to spend the day in my room. Of course, I would like to check
on my horse first."
"There's no need to check on the horse," said the woman quickly. "It is well
looked after, my boy has seen to that." Melli began to feel decidedly uneasy.
She did not press the point further, but resolved to go and check on her horse
later anyway.
"Why don't you join me for a sup? It would be a shame to waste such a pretty
dress. Besides, you must be hungry and the tavern keeper does not serve midday
meal in his private rooms." Mistress Greal shot a glance to the maid, warning
her not to contradict what she said. Melli knew she was being forced; she also
knew she couldn't now refuse.
"Very well, I will join you for a short while."
Mistress Greal was most pleased. "Very good, very good. We shall have a nice
time."
She and Melli walked through the tavern and found a table at which to sit. The
table was too public for
Melli's liking, right in the center of the room. When Melli protested and
asked to be seated somewhere more discreet, Mistress Greal spoke of the warmth
from the fire and the fresh air from the door. To Melli the table appeared to
be close to neither.
Melli sat quietly and drank little of the ale. Mistress Greal appeared to know
everyone in the tavern: she nodded and waved at all of the men. In fact, their
little party seemed to be the focus of attention in the room. Melli hoped that
no one who knew her from Castle Harvell was there. On a brief scan around the
room, she saw no one familiar.
After a little while, a man came up to them. He spoke to Mistress Greal, but
his eyes were on Melli. "I
wish you joy of the day, Mistress Greal," he said, his eyes lingering over
Melli's exposed bosom.
"Joy to you, Edrad," replied Mistress Greal, noting with approval where the
man's eyes looked.
"May I have the pleasure of being introduced to your lovely companion?"
"Why, certainly, sir. This is Melli. Where did you say you were from my dear?"
Melli had not said; she struggled to think of a suitable place. "I am from ...
Deepwood."
"Deepwood? Never heard of it. Where might that be?" asked the man.
"It's far south of here."
"It must be very far south if I have never heard of it," remarked Mistress
Greal sharply.
Melli was thinking of a polite way to excuse herself when the man spoke to her
companion: "Mistress
Greal, I wonder if I might have a word with you in private?" The woman agreed,
and the two withdrew beyond Melli's hearing distance. She watched as the man
asked something and the woman shook her head. The man then asked something
else and this time Mistress Greal nodded. The man departed, with one last look
toward Melli, and Mistress Greal returned to the table.
She appeared to be most pleased. Her eyes checked the room, and seeing many of
the men glance appreciatively at Melli, she smiled widely. "I think you've had
enough excitement for one day, my dear. I
can see you are tired. I will see if the tavern keeper will bring some food to
your room after all." Melli was surprised at this sudden kindness.
"Why, thank you. I do rather feel like a short nap." Mistress Greal smiled
again. "Yes, deary, you get all the beauty sleep you need. Tomorrow you will
need all your energies." Melli was instantly suspicious.
"What do you mean by that?"
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"Why nothing, my dear," said Mistress Greal sweetly. "It's a local saying
around here, that's all." As Melli stood up and prepared to walk away, her
companion had one final thing to say: "Take the dress off before you sleep,
Melli. I wouldn't want it wrinkled."
Baralis was on his way to his audience with the queen, a flutter of excitement
in his stomach. He knocked on the door to the meeting chamber, and the queen
beckoned him to enter.
Even to Baralis' dispassionate eye the queen looked regal and beautiful. Her
heavy pale hair was piled high on her head, and her gown of burnished silk
reflected a gentle, golden light onto her fine features.
For a brief moment before she spoke, Baralis indulged himself in remembering a
certain night, many years before, when he had partaken of her delights. The
memory gave him a feeling of power and he suddenly felt more confident than he
had been on entering the chamber.
"Lord Baralis. I bid you welcome." He watched as the queen decided whether or
not to favor him with her hand. She decided against it.
"It is an honor to be in your presence, Your Highness." He bowed low.
"Lord Baralis, I trust you have heard that the king's health has improved
somewhat?"
Baralis nodded. "I hope Your Highness is well satisfied with the medicine."
"I am indeed. The king had been getting much worse of late. Now I see him
improving for the first time since his tragic accident."
"I am grateful to be the cause of such good news," said Baralis, bowing
slightly as he reminded the queen of his role in the recovery. The queen did
not miss the reminder.
"Yes, Lord Baralis, I am most thankful to you. You know there is to be a great
feast tomorrow evening to celebrate the king's health?"
"I will, of course, be in attendance, Your Highness." Baralis was in no rush
to get to the point. He would let the queen be the first to speak of the deal.
"Lord Baralis, I think you know why I have asked you here this day."
He would not make it easier for her. "I would not so presume, Your Highness."
With pleasure, Baralis noted a flicker of anger pass over the queen's
features.
"I will not exchange small talk anymore, Lord Baralis. The point is this-I
need more of your medicine for the king. What do you require in return for
supplying it?"
Baralis concealed his delight. "Your Highness is most forthright. I would
indeed expect a favor for a favor."
"Speak what you would have: lands, gold, appointments." The queen made a
negligent gesture and turned away from Baralis.
"I would have a say in who Prince Kylock marries." The queen spun around.
"What trickery is this? You will have no influence over who my son will
marry." The queen was now trembling with anger. In contrast, Baralis was very
calm and even beginning to enjoy himself.
"There is no need for deception with me, Your Highness. I know of Lord
Maybor's plans to marry his daughter to the prince." The queen hid her
surprise well.
"How have you come to know this?" she demanded coldly. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]