chose a table near the wall where she could interrogate Master Tarnyn. Ynaselle
and Alennia took two chairs next to them. Once seated, Alennia pulled her
elbows closely into her sides and pressed her hands into her lap as if she were
trying to shrink herself as small as possible. She kept her head bowed
slightly, staring intently at her own gloved hands.
studied the girl. How could she be so different from her sister Nithnael?
Alennia was as pretty as Nithnael. Tall, slim, and willowy, the sisters struck
the perfect elvish figure. Alennia’s russet complexion and smooth skin glowed
beneath a halo of raven-black hair. The strong cheekbones, broad bridge of her
nose, and small mouth were the epitome of elvish beauty. Her long lashes veiled
sparkling dark eyes making her look shy and innocent. She and Nithnael shared
their beauty, but Alennia didn’t have Nithnael’s pride. Seeing Alennia made
Ynaselle realize her childhood friend had always been vain. The sisters were
gaze drifted up from her lap to watch the dancers on the floor. For just a
moment, Alennia’s eyebrows lifted and the corners of her mouth turned down in a
brief moment of regret. The poor girl wanted to be dancing, obviously, but she
was too shy.
Ynaselle wanted to protect this girl.
been to Heliohart before?” Ynaselle asked, turning her gaze to the dancers as
There was a
pause from Alennia, but Ynaselle didn’t push. She kept her gaze on the dancers
while Alennia gathered her courage.
Alennia said. “I haven’t.” A pause. “Mistress Tarnyn and Nithnael have,
come at an excellent time, then. Spring is wonderful in Heliohart.”
season at the Theater of Severa will start soon. I read that they were going to
show The Daughters of Trichechia Manatus
this season. Do you like the theater?”
enjoyed it when I’ve gone.” Alennia’s voice was quiet so that Ynaselle could
barely hear her.
have to take you, then,” Ynaselle said. She smiled at Alennia’s surprised
expression. “If you like. My brothers will not go with me often. My father
isn’t in the health for it. So, you would be doing me a favor to go with me.”
smiled back at Ynaselle. “I would like that.”
then, you would allow me to show you Heliohart, whatever your sister and
brother haven’t shown you, that is. It is always a delight to show people a
you staying while your brother finds a house?”
Brephochae,” Alennia said. The Brephochae was a popular hostel, featuring a
beautiful garden, restaurant, and even a greenhouse with a lofty ceiling that
allowed comfortable stargazing all year round. Lady Erro herself didn’t keep a
house in Heliohart – she always kept a suite at the Brephochae.
You shan’t be satisfied with anywhere else if you stay too long at the
Brephochae,” Ynaselle teased.
Alennia turned to Ynaselle, earnest and apparently shocked at the suggestion.
“I am certain I shall be happy whatever my brother chooses. He will do his best
to find the perfect place for us.” Alennia nearly clapped her hands over her
mouth, as if she wished to take the outburst back.
smiled and touched Alennia’s hand. “I am sure. Where are you coming from,
moving to Heliohart?”
is in the Court of the Mirror.”
Ynaselle replied. She had never heard of Thrin, but she knew the country around
Flecterre, the capital of the Court of the Mirror. It was a beautiful land
laced through with rivers. “Do the giant lilies still grow there?” She
remembered visiting once as a child and touring in a long, shallow-bottomed
boat. She had, with her mother’s blessing, climbed onto the water lilies and
danced, to the party’s delight. Her father had been shocked that her mother had
allowed her to do so.
weren’t blooming when we left,” Alennia replied. “But there is a lake near the
house we kept there so filled with lilies that during the summer-” she touched
Ynaselle’s arm “-when they bloomed, they blanketed the entire surface. We could
picnic on them.”
came to an end, and the dancers began to disperse. Jaonos plopped himself into
a chair beside Ynaselle, a glass of wine in his hand. He smiled briefly at
Ynaselle before finishing his drink. Nithnael stood beside Master Tarnyn, an
imposing figure with her imperious airs. Ynaselle could guess how well they got
Lady Erro cried as Mistress Tarnyn returned with Vithian, “tell me where you
have been looking. What houses are you considering? You should have consulted
with me, first, of course. I can tell you the best places. I know all the
little secrets in Heliohart.”
been much involved as you think,” Mistress Tarnyn replied. “Nithnael shall keep
the house with Alennia while Tarnyn and I go to Faydark. I believe the favorite
house has been on Durinian Street, but I prefer one on Fensense Square.”
is an excellent place to be, don’t you think, Jaonos?” Vithian asked.
shrugged and handed Vithian his empty glass, which Vithian placed aside on
another table nearby. “Certainly. Classy old neighborhood.”
got the large gardens that used to be so popular,” Lady Erro said. “Nothing
like the newer neighborhoods.”
agree,” Mistress Tarnyn said. She glanced to her husband, who smiled
indulgently, if briefly, at her. “But I think Durinian Street will win the day.
Am I right, Nithnael?”
face remained placid and impassible. She smiled shallowly and nodded. “Durinian
Street is a prestigious neighborhood.”
more fashionable, at the moment,” Jaonos said with a scoff.
“It may not
have the large gardens,” Nithnael replied, her untouchable air slipping
slightly with an icy reply, “but it hasn’t got the drafty attics or leaking
got the right neighbors,” Jaonos replied.
lets a house there,” Ynaselle said before Jaonos could say anything else. “And
I understand Prince Lyra is considering letting a house there as well. And it’s
not far from where we keep ours.”
the little prince is planning on taking the southernmost house on the square as
well,” Lady Erro said.
suppose, is the end of it, then,” Mistress Tarnyn said.
silence that followed, Ynaselle gave Jaonos a stinging glare. Jaonos was
unaffected. “Oh, my, look at this,” Jaonos said to Vithian who still stood
Vithian asked and looked as Jaonos pointed. “Oh.”
pointed to an elf with platinum hair who was the only one not wearing the reds,
blues, and browns of the Court of the Stag. “Little Prince Lianthorn has made
“What is he
up to, I wonder,” Vithian said, leaning forward.
visiting noble,” Ynaselle said, folding her hands in her lap. “Of course he
would be invited.”
Vithian said. “Jaonos, did we tell Yna? Yna, he’s here to try to marry into
Heliohart, I think.”
spread her hands, not committing to her own opinion.
“And, he was passing out dybla at Court. How would he get his hands on such a thing?”
Lianthorn’s new husband is Myracine,” Ynaselle said simply.
Both Jaonos and Vithian leaned to Ynaselle now. “How did you know?”
Ynaselle laughed and shook her head. “It was in the newspapers a few months ago. Don’t either of you read the newspaper? Little Prince Lianthorn probably has dybla because the entire Lianthorn Court was gifted with stones of it. Myracine can’t sell it, after all.
if some of the rumors are to be believed, the Prince of the Blood of Lianthorn
will also take a Myracine spouse, since any child of Prince Lianthorn’s most
recent union will just be more little princes.”
mouth hung open briefly, as if he couldn’t form words to respond. Instead, with
what Ynaselle assumed as embarrassment, Vithian stepped back.
your mystery solved,” Jaonos said. He sat up to look over the crowd for something
more interesting. He waved over a young couple Ynaselle didn’t recognize, a
honey-haired young woman and a dark-eyed young man. He stood and stepped away
from the rest of his group so as to avoid having to introduce them. Ynaselle
Jaonos’s seat and smirked. “The Asteracas,” he whispered to Ynaselle. “They
were at the Valstan Club. I’m not certain who they are, really.” He frowned
thoughtfully for a moment, then stood to them.
spoke, a quartet of horns began trumpeting out the announcement of the next
dance. Vithian stepped away with the Asteraca sister while Jaonos fetched
Nithnael. Alennia was watching longingly as the dancers took their places.
like to dance?” Ynaselle asked.
paled slightly and shook her head. “Oh, no, I couldn’t.”
certain you could,” Ynaselle said. “I’m certain you can.”
front of all these people!”
no one will be watching you especially! Well, except your partner. And when
someone other than your partner watches you, they will see a pretty and elegant
elf dancing gracefully, I’m sure. And you shouldn’t have to dance with a
stranger. Any of my brothers would happily dance with you.”
brothers are a pleasure to watch,” Alennia said with a small smile.
“As is your
sister,” Ynaselle said. “She dances well.”
were forming into an old-fashioned reel, four couples formed squares, and her
brothers and their partners were part of one square together, with young Master
Pendanse and his partner. It was the Thoraci Reel, so there were twelve
squares, and only twelve, so three couples were forced to take their seats when
they couldn’t find their places in time. It was difficult to get enough elves
together to perform the Thoraci, so it would be a delight to watch.
turned to Alennia to invite her to join herself in returning to her father’s balcony
but stopped before she spoke. Alennia was looking at something over Ynaselle’s
shoulder with a shy and unsure smile. Ynaselle turned.
jumped to her throat. Standing in front of her was the genial and handsome
Lieranym Bryravn. He was crowned with golden hair that he kept out of his face
with a golden comb shaped like a leafy branch that would have made Jaonos envious.
His blue eyes were just as bright as they ever were and they sparkled with
pleasure that, despite herself, she hoped was for her. He wore his half-smile
that made him look like he was keeping a secret that he was eager to tell. And
he spoke with his amiable almost playful tones when he said, “Ynaselle, I’m
glad to see you’ve come back to Heliohart.”
opened her mouth to try to say something but found no words.
thought she would hate him after she had rejected his proposal. After as much
as she knew about him, about his character, she thought the sight of him would
repulse her. Instead, she found her heart pounding. She couldn’t breathe. She
had wanted to see him again. She had wanted to speak with him again, to touch
him. She felt a euphoria wash over her as she met his gaze. And it panicked
Bryravn!” she managed. “What a delight to see you again!” Her voice was
strained, far higher and tighter than she had wanted it to be. She swallowed,
trying to recover herself.
Nym – she
had always called him Nym – kissed his fingers and reached toward her. She
found that her hands were shaking as she brought her fingers to her lips. She
didn’t want to be so undone by his presence. She didn’t want him to see her so
undone. Her eyes stung and she prayed she would not cry as she pressed her
fingers against his.
Lady Erro called from where she sat, saving Ynaselle by waving him over.
to Lady Erro and smiled again. “Lady Erro, I’m glad to see you’re well.”
come here, dear, and tell me of your father and mother. Are they in Heliohart?
Is your mother well enough to travel again?”
is never well without her little crystal jars and potions, you know,” Nym said
as he walked to Lady Erro’s side. She made him bow down so she could kiss his
had walked away, Ynaselle let out the breath she hadn’t realized she had been
holding. She felt warm, too warm. She needed to get air.
started to stand, but a wave of dizziness washed over her, and she had to grab
the back of her chair to keep from falling.
are you alright?” Alennia asked.
tittered, but it was too forced. “Just a little warm, that’s all. Alennia, why
don’t you come with me to my father’s balcony? We can watch the dance from
there much better.”
wait for Alennia’s response – she couldn’t. She couldn’t be near Nym without
regret. Seeing him again, she realized she still loved him.
didn’t even know if Nym loved her still. He was far calmer, his voice, his
posture, was normal. His hands didn’t shake. His smile was easy. Was he affected
her eyes once more. She wasn’t certain if it would be worse if Nym no longer
loved her, but the thought of it made her heart ache.
found one of the side stairways, which were covered unlike the grand staircase
at the head of the hall. She hurried up the stairs, where they turned, and she
could hide from prying eyes. She was certain Nym had been watching her, and it
made her feel naked and vulnerable. When she stopped, she was panting. She had
run up the first flight, she realized, and she was very nearly sobbing.
pressed her forehead against the cool stone of the wall and forcibly slowed her
breathing. She refused to cry. She had already wept as many tears as she was
going to do over Nym.
Blackwells had known the Bryravns for generations. Each family were in high
standing in the Court of the Stag, after all. But, the Blackwells stayed in the
north of the Court at Blackwell and the Bryravns were in the west at Bryravn.
Her mother had invited the Bryravns, two sons and three daughters when she had
thrown Ynaselle the party to introduce her to society.
nobility, the aristocracy, and wealthy families threw parties for their
children when they were old enough. It was an introduction to society, a way to
formally declare their children to be old enough to participate as adults. And,
of course, as marriageable. Parents might negotiate a marriage during one of
these parties. Matchmakers were often invited, either to act on behalf of the
child being presented or sent from other families.
hadn’t invited any matchmakers. She had invited the Bryravns.
caught her eye from the beginning. He had always been handsome, but it was his
easy temperament that had first attracted her. He didn’t have the stiff,
arrogant air of many elves, especially the elvish nobility and aristocracy.
Instead, he joked, laughed, and spoke with everyone as if they were already his
friend. It was charming in the most unaffected way possible. Everyone was taken
in by him, and Ynaselle was no exception.
turned to see Alennia standing a few steps below her, her dark eyes wide with
concern. She was reaching a tentative hand toward Ynaselle, eager to help but
hesitant to disturb.
Ynaselle managed a smile. She took Alennia’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m well,
I’m well,” Ynaselle said, though she could hear the strain sound in her own
voice. Ynaselle took a deep breath, trying to push the memories from her mind.
She would need to be able to be around Nym without losing her composure. She
had decided to refuse him, and she would not regret it.
not seem convinced, concern still writ on her face, but she did not push. She
squeezed Ynaselle’s hand back and gave Ynaselle a small smile.
Alennia,” Ynaselle said. “My father waits in the balcony. I should like to
introduce you to him.”
Blackwell?” Alennia asked. The concern was gone, now replaced with anxiety.
You know Lady Erro. My father is no different.”
knows Lady Erro,” Alennia said, but she followed Ynaselle as led her up the
stairs. “I don’t know anyone.”
me.” Ynaselle smiled. “And my father is hardly anyone to be feared.”
still sitting by the railing, watching the dance below. The suite was already
decorated in the blacks and silvers favored in the Blackwell livery, but Flinar
had turned the lumen darker after Lady Erro had taken his children down into
the main ballroom. Now, Flinar sat in darkness, the light from the ballroom
casting deep, almost ghastly, shadows over his face. For a brief moment,
Ynaselle felt she was looking at a skull rather than her father’s face.
touched the lumen, sliding it just bright enough to dispel the deathly mask
from her father’s face. “Father, forgive me for disturbing you.”
drawn from his revelry and blinked at the change of light. “Ynaselle,” he said
and smiled. “Who is this with you?”
“This is my
friend.” Ynaselle drew Alennia from behind herself. “Yuven Alennia Tarnyn. She
is a friend of Lady Erro’s.”
kissed his fingers at her and Alennia, uncertain what to do, bowed her head and
nearly touched the floor with her knees in a bow. “Master Tarnyn’s sister, I
should think. You went to school with her.”
Ynaselle said, sitting beside her father. “I went to school with her elder
sister, but I am friends with both.” Alennia was left standing, a frightened
look on her face, and Ynaselle and Flinar both motioned to another chair.
Tarnyn, sit,” Flinar said. “Lady Erro has told me about you, a bit. Oh, don’t
be surprised, Lady Erro has opinions and stories about everyone she’s ever met.
I believe she knows everyone in the empire, let alone the court.
very highly of you. Quiet, polite, dutiful. She tells me you’re quite talented,
a musician. The harp, I believe.”
kept her gaze averted. Her hands were clenched at her knees, her arms stock
straight. Ynaselle was nearly surprised Alennia wasn’t vibrating she was so
“I do like
to play,” Alennia said in a voice so small it was difficult to hear over the
music, “but I shouldn’t call myself a musician.”
modest,” Flinar said. He smiled at Ynaselle. “I do like her.”
smiled and nodded. “As do I.”
think she should like to see Pheasant’s Cross?”
head snapped up, and Ynaselle saw the surprise and concern on her face.
Ynaselle imagined Alennia had spent little time away from her brother and
sister and to ask her to travel so far from home without them must sound as
terrifying as walking barefoot into a volcano. Ynaselle smiled reassuringly at
Tarnyn is finding a house for her and the other Yuven Tarnyn in Heliohart. I
doubt they should want to quit it so soon.”
so,” Flinar said. “Well, there is time. Everyone grows tired of Heliohart after
plan on inviting all the Tarnyns to dinner soon.” She smiled at Alennia, who
looked very relieved to learn she would not have to be away from the safety of
Flinar said and laid a hand over Ynaselle’s.
smiled at Alennia, who smiled back, but all three paused as they heard rumbling
on the stairs. They each turned as Vithian burst through the archway. He caught
himself, mouth open, about to speak, and immediately shut his mouth again when
he saw Flinar, Ynaselle, and Alennia sitting calmly in the Blackwell balcony.
“Ah,” he said
as nonchalantly as he could manage. He straightened his soutane and smoothed
his robes. “Ynaselle, there you are.”
am,” she said. “Did I miss anything?”
not at all,” Vithian said. “I’d just come to see where you and – er – Yuven Alennia
had run off to.” He blinked and offered Alennia a sheepish smile. “Lady Erro
sent me to find you.”
best go down to the ballroom,” Flinar said. “The Prince and his entourage will
be making their appearance soon, and we should be there to greet them.”
and Alennia stood, and Vithian offered Alennia his arm to walk her back to
where Lady Erro and everyone else now sat. Flinar seemed to struggle as he
stood, leaning against the arm of his chair for a moment.
Ynaselle touched his arm. Was he breathing heavily?
along.” Flinar straightened and motioned toward the arch. Ynaselle took his arm
and together they descended the stairs.
watched her father as they walked to rejoin the group. She wasn’t certain, but
she thought she noticed a gray tinge around Flinar’s eyes and mouth. He didn’t
lean on her, but he seemed to be walking more slowly than normal. Ynaselle
tried to hide her concern when Flinar met her gaze. She knew better than to
voice her concerns to him, but she wondered how well her father had recovered
from the past winter’s illness and malaise.
Blackwell, I’m glad you have deigned to join us,” Lady Erro said as they
approached. She shooed Master Tarnyn out of his seat so that Flinar could sit beside
her. Master Tarnyn kissed his fingers, bobbed a bow, and politely stepped away
to stand beside his wife.
old for these sorts of things, you know,” Flinar replied.
was relieved to find that Nym had left, so she took her place beside Othorion,
who was still happily chatting away with Merioleth. Ynaselle smiled to herself
as Othorion finished a story about losing their prized doe while trying to
learn to ride without a saddle against their parents’ better advice and how he
had spent nearly the entire night searching for her only to learn that she had
returned to the stables after he had fallen. Merioleth laughed with him, a
lovely, brassy laugh that felt so very genuine that Ynaselle couldn’t help but
smile as well.
leaned toward her when he had finished and asked. “Yna, is everything all
Ynaselle said, nodding. “Everything is well.”
nodded to himself and whispered, “I’m sorry we all abandoned you like that.”
worry yourself,” Ynaselle replied. She noticed that Merioleth was very politely
turning her attention entirely away from them.
bell intoned a single piercing note, spreading out over the ballroom to silence
it. Each elf took their places along the walls, clearing the room from the main
staircase where Prince Heliohart and his family stood with their guests of
honor. Prince Heliohart stood as proud as always. At one time, he would have
been thought handsome, though he had grown pale and gray, bent with age. He
stood beside his mousy wife, each crowned with antlers and wearing long,
flowing blue and red robes.
A few steps
before them, the Prince of the Blood of Heliohart stood also crowned with
antlers, though not so grand as his parents’. Beside him stood another elf,
this one wearing the white robes and a brass band around his brow. He wore the
colors of the Court of the Swallow, and he and the Blood-Prince Heliohart stood
hands pressed together.
of the Court stood to the side, her melodious voice spreading over the ballroom
as the chord ceased.
the Court of the Stag,” she cried, “pay heed. Prince Heliohart, Lord of the
Court of the Stag, the Braccura Constellation, Servant of the Emperor, and
Protector of Faydark stands before you.”
heed,” came the response for all the elves throughout the ball. So many spoke
that no words could be distinguished, but the hall echoed thunder.
and fellows,” Prince Heliohart voice boomed over the ballroom, picked up and
amplified by the soundbeams throughout the room. “I am honored that you all
have joined me to celebrate this momentous occasion.
stand before you to humbly announce my son’s engagement. The Prince of the
Blood of the Court of the Stag is henceforth engaged to Prince Passerine of the
Court of the Swallow. Please, join me in in welcoming him into our Court.”
murmured their welcome in another thundering response. Prince Heliohart went
out, describing the pride and joy they all should feel over the impending
union, the greatness of the Court of the Swallow, and so on. Movement caught
Ynaselle’s attention. She turned to see the Little Prince Lianthorn, red-faced
and furious, storming toward a side staircase, his pink, purple, and yellow
robes swirling around him. His own entourage followed him hurriedly, retreating
from the Court of the Stag. Ynaselle supposed that he would no longer be
enjoying the hospitality of the court.
turned back as Prince Heliohart and his family descended the stairs. They each
bowed as they made their way across from the stairs to the dais where they
would sit and watch over the hall for the rest of the evening.
seated, each major family climbed the dais and welcomed the Little Prince
Passerine into the Court. Lady Erro went up after fetching her eldest, as did
Lord Blackwell, with Jaonos, who looked sick of the whole thing.
exciting?” Merioleth said, hanging tightly to Othorion’s arm. “A marriage! When
do you think the wedding will be?”
of Haethus,” Ynaselle said. “‘A wise man marries in winter.’”
pity it’s so long,” Merioleth said. “I don’t think I’ll be in Heliohart so
shall I, if it’s any consolation,” Othorion said.
you’ll be captaining a ship!”
laughed but shook his head. “I certainly hope so.”
felt a twinge in her chest as she watched Lord Bryravn and Nym climb the dais
as her own father and brother descended. She reminded herself that she would
have to overcome this. If she stayed within the Court of the Stag, she would
always be in the company of the Bryravns, and her heart couldn’t break every
time she saw him.
joined them again, he looked tired, the wrinkles in his face more deeply
etched. He took Ynaselle’s arm and this time she was certain he did lean on her
for support. “Come, Ynaselle, it’s late. Let us go home. I don’t wish to stay
The thought of weddings must still sting her father when his own wife was dead, just as Ynaselle’s own missed marriage to Nym stung her. She nodded. “Neither do I.”
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