by Ruth Davis Hays
Watching the thin pale smoke inside one of the numerous glow orbs that lined the gallery, Lauralei issued a deliberate sigh. Her maidservant, Ameila, glanced in her direction as they strolled. The Contes had requested Ameila accompany her to the royal court and for that opportunity, the maidservant was grateful. Yet, the few drops of elven blood still residing in her family line were weary of being deep underground. She was longing for wind and trees, the smells of the season and the ripple of leaves. Her psyche screamed, and no matter the height of the room, she wanted to claw off her face.
Shuddering at the ever growing distance she felt from all things green, Ameila tried to attend to her mistress’s mood. “A sigh of boredom or despair, Contes? Are you ready to return to Jeullion?”
“Even you are addressing me by title now?”
The voice was not quite toneless.
“When in public, it is only fitting that a servant address her mistress formally. In case there are any… onlookers. It’s bad enough that you have me walking beside you as a friend would. I don’t fancy being whipped for insubordination at the whim of some strange noble. Sometimes your lack of formal etiquette training surprises me.”
“I was born in a stable, as they say.” Lauralei smirked at her joke. “My father made me read books on the subject, but I was not tutored for long. Honestly, I didn’t pay close attention for I never assumed that I would need it.”
“Did you not attend a finishing college?”
“Yes, but as I said. I wasn’t paying attention.” Lauralei stopped and pointed to an immobile servant at the end of the wide passage. “Here’s an example of my ignorance. I’ve asked that man five times if he knows a servant by the name of Ramon, and he will not speak to me. I know he can hear me.”
“It’s improper for one of his rank to speak to a noble. He’s required to take orders and fulfill them, not chitchat.”
“Isn’t that rude?”
“If you need assistance that requires answers, you have to find a servant of higher rank.”
“That’s inane. Besides, all the ones who will speak to me say there is no servant by that name in the palace. But, he wasn’t an illusion. I’m not crazy.” Lauralei stomped towards the fellow in a predatory fashion.
Ameila touched her arm and halted her attack with a smile. “Allow me.”
“I am the Contes’s handmaid,” Ameila said upon approaching the spindle thin man with his hands behind his back. He glanced at her. “She is interested in –“
“I know what she wants.” The man tossed his eyes around the gallery before continuing. “The contes has come to me several times. I can’t say it to her, but I have no idea who she’s talking about.”
“Who would know the roster of servants, even the ones that may be on loan from other places?”
The man shrugged. “Master Julius. He is head of the housestaff. I think she talked to him yesterday. If he doesn’t know who it is she’s looking for, no one would.”
Ameila had not given much stock in hope, but was disappointed that she could not give her mistress any new information about her mysterious “servant” friend. “Thanks be to you for your help.” She gave him a curt, yet polite curtsy and turned back to Lauralei to repeat the report.
“That’s disheartening.” Lauralei was defeated. Turning back towards her apartments, she stared at her feet rather than the artwork adorning the carved walls. “I simply wanted to talk with him further. Not that you’re not a good companion, Ameila, but I miss laughing with a man who shares my… humor.”
“I cannot attend the formal parties with you, so I can understand your … needs.”
Lauralei paused at her inflection. “Are you suggesting that I’m only seek him out because I’m attracted to him?”
Ameila let her eyes slide sideways as a light smile touched her lips. It took only seconds for her mistress to return the smile and blush as well.
“Perhaps I did find him … likable.” Lauralei giggled. “Something about him reminded me of-“
“Who?” Ameila had never delved into her mistress’s past, at least not any further than she was willing to share openly.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter now that I’m a widow.” Lauralei took a deep breath. “I was in love with a young man before I came to the Monteforte household. Someone I miss still. It was a dalliance not approved of by my family, to say the least. My father separated us and I was sent to the conte. I know where he is now, but it seems worlds away.”
Hearing her voice trail off, Ameila decided to leave her to her memories. They were approaching the hall to their rooms. The chime of the king’s elaborate time-keeping device could be heard echoing through the upper corridors, muffled in its reverberation.
“Are you attending the court tonight?” Ameila asked. For two nights, Lauralei had gone and returned more glum by her failure to find Ramon.
“I suppose. It’s probably best that I keep on top of the rumors, to make certain that I am not the subject.”
“Then let’s get you dressed.”
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