L ATER THAT EVENING I sat alone in what I guessed might be my drawing room. Or perhaps my sitting room. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was.
I was surprised to find I liked my new rooms quite a lot. Not for the extra space. Not because they had a better view of the garden. Not because the inlay in the marble floor was more pleasing to the eye. Not even because the room had its own exceptionally well-stocked wine cabinet, though that was quite pleasant.
No. My new rooms were preferable because they had several cushioned, armless chairs that were perfect for playing my lute. It’s uncomfortable to play for any length of time in a chair with armrests. In my previous room, I’d usually ended up sitting on the floor.
I decided to dub the room with the good chairs my lutery. Or perhaps my performatory. I would need a while to come up with something suitably pretentious.
Needless to say, I was pleased by the recent turn of events. By way of celebration, I opened a bottle of fine, dark Feloran wine, relaxed, and brought out my lute.
I started quick and tripping, playing my way through “Tintatatornin” to limber up my fingers. Then I played sweet and easy for a time, slowly growing reacquainted with my lute. By the time I’d played for about half a bottle, I had my feet up and my music was mellow and content as a cat in a sunbeam.
That’s when I heard the noise behind me. I stopped in a jangle of notes and sprang to my feet, expecting Caudicus, or the guards, or some other deadly trouble.
What I found was the Maer, smiling an embarrassed smile, like a child that’s just played a joke. “I trust your new rooms are to your satisfaction?”
I collected myself and made a small bow. “It’s rather much for the likes of me, your grace.”
“It’s rather little, considering my debt to you,” Alveron said. He sat on a nearby couch and made a gracious gesture indicating I should feel free to take a seat myself. “What was that you were playing just now?”
I returned to my chair. “It wasn’t really a proper song, your grace. I was just playing.”
The Maer raised an eyebrow. “It was of your own devising?” I nodded, and he motioned to me. “I’m sorry to have interrupted you. Please, continue.”
“What would you like to hear, your grace?”
“I have it on good report that Meluan Lackless is fond of music and sweet words,” he said. “Something along those lines.”
“There are many types of sweet, your grace,” I said. I played the opening to “Violet Bide.” The notes rang out light and sweet and sad. Then I changed to “The Lay of Savien,” my fingers moving quickly through the complex chording, making it sound every bit as hard as it was.
Alveron nodded to himself, his expression growing more satisfied as he listened. “And you can compose as well?”
I nodded easily. “I can, your grace. Though it takes time to do such things properly.”
“How much time?”
I shrugged. “A day or two, or three. Depending on the sort of song you desire. Letters are easier.”
The Maer leaned forward. “It pleases me that Threpe’s praise was not exaggerated,” he said. “I will admit I moved you to these rooms with more than gratitude in mind. A passage connects them to my own rooms.We will need to meet frequently in order to discuss my courting.”
“It should prove most convenient, your grace,” I said, then chose my next words carefully. “I’ve learned her family’s history, but that will only go so far toward courting a woman.”
Alveron chuckled. “You must take me for a fool,” he said gently. “I know you’ll need to meet her. She will be here in two days, visiting with a host of other nobility. I have declared a month of festivities to celebrate the passing of my long illness.”
“Clever,” I complimented him.
He shrugged. “I’ll arrange something to bring the two of you together early on. Is there anything you require for the practice of your art?”
“A goodly amount of paper should suffice, your grace. Ink and pens.”
“Nothing more than that? I’ve heard tell of poets who need certain extravagancies to aid them in their composition.” He made an inarticulate gesture. “A specific type of drink or scenery? I’ve heard of a poet, quite famous in Renere, who has a trunk of rotting apples he keeps close at hand. Whenever his inspiration fails him, he opens it and breathes the fumes they emit.”
I laughed. “I am a musician , your grace. Leave the poets to their superstitious bone rattling. All I need is my instrument, two good hands, and a knowledge of my subject.”
The idea seemed to trouble Alveron. “Nothing to aid your inspiration?”
“I would have your leave to freely wander the estates and Severen-Low according to my will, your grace.”
I gave an easy shrug. “In that case, I have everything I need for inspiration within easy reach.”
* * *
I had barely set foot on Tinnery Street when I saw her. With all the fruitless searching I had done over the last several months, it seemed odd that I should find her so easily now.
Denna moved through the crowd with slow grace. Not the stiffness that passes for grace in courtly settings, but a natural leisure of movement. A cat does not think of stretching, it stretches. But a tree does not even do this. A tree simply sways without the effort of moving itself. That is how she moved.
I caught up to her as quickly as I could without attracting her attention. “Excuse me, miss?”
She turned. Her face brightened at the sight of me. “Yes?”
“I would never normally approach a woman in this way, but I couldn’t help but notice that you have the eyes of a lady I was once desperately in love with.”
“What a shame to love only once,” she said, showing her white teeth in a wicked smile. “I’ve heard some men can manage twice or even more.”
I ignored her gibe. “I am only a fool once. Never will I love again.”
Her expression turned soft and she laid her hand lightly on my arm. “You poor man! She must have hurt you terribly.”
“’Struth, she wounded me more ways than one.”
“But such things are to be expected,” she said matter-of-factly. “How could a woman help but love a man so striking as yourself?”
“I know not,” I said modestly. “But I think she must not, for she caught me with an easy smile, then stole away without a word. Like dew in dawn’s pale light.”
“Like a dream upon waking,” Denna added with a smile.
“Like a faerie maiden slipping through the trees.”
Denna was silent for a moment. “She must have been wondrous indeed, to catch you so entire,” she said, looking at me with serious eyes.
“She was beyond compare.”
“Oh come now.” Her manner changed to jovial. “We all know that when the lights are out all women are the same height!” She gave a rough chuckle and ribbed me knowingly with an elbow.
“Not true,” I said with firm conviction.
“Well,” she said slowly. “I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” She looked back up at me. “Perhaps in time you can convince me.”
I looked into the deep brown of her eyes. “That has ever been my hope.”
Denna smiled and my heart stepped sideways in my chest. “Maintain it.” She slid her arm inside the curve of mine and fell into step beside me. “For without hope what do any of us have?”