Chapter 19: History

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Chapter 19: History

A wiser girl than I wouldn't have provoked Lord Waryn.

But then, a wiser girl than I wouldn't be stuck where I was.

We rose when Lord Aspertin arrived. Like last time, he wore a simple gold mask embedded with the stag sigil and a few beryls and rubies.

We sat after each of us was greeted by him. There was no place set for Lady Golia or her son and a part of me, the part that wasn't done being foolish, wished to ask after her.

As dishes were served, each complimented by its own wine, I spoke little and listened much. Aspertin drilled Waryn with questions about his family, about Lord Dolev Eloroan, ruler of the prosperous state of Lamoni. They spoke matters of the noble houses of the north. I learnt that Eloroan was due, in the next year, to surpass even the Somaer in wealth—not that it mattered and that Lord Dolev was seen as even more shrewd and merciless than any Eloroan lord had before him. Something in the way Lord Waryn spoke about his father made me feel they weren't on the best of terms. I could imagine why. Lord Dolev had lost in a feud that had put Waryn in Tvereman custody. By the looks of it, he hadn't enjoyed that experience much.

"I'm actually surprised to see you here, Leah," Afali said when the main course was taken away. "Where's Lord Yoav Kiri?"

So, Lady Leah was married to Lord Yoav, heir to the Kiri, the leading branch of the Usi family.

Lady Leah leaned back in her chair, pressing her lips together. "I'm more surprised you're only asking now."

"I needed a bit more wine in my blood to cool down."

Leah and Waryn both laughed, almost as if we were among friends.

"I was hoping to see Yoav again, after all these years."

"Well," said Leah, raising her glass to her lips. "He's not here." Her gaze met briefly with Lady Nava's before she pointedly looked away.

"I noticed you're not wearing a bear mask," Afali continued.

"Nor did I allow my name to be changed," replied Leah. "I won't let my father push me out of being an Acavia. It should have all been mine."

At that, Afali's jaw tightened, and even Lord Aspertin looked sternly. "We will not forgive, Leah," he said. "You are always welcome in this house."

"Thank you, uncle," Leah said stiffly. "It means more than you can imagine."

When the meal was finally over, I learned nothing of what I needed to learn, but, when I looked again at Lady Nava, a plan began to form.


"What was that?" Afali demanded, when we were finally alone. The meal had extended well into the evening and while she had laughed and smiled and talked to all her guests, Afali looked as exhausted as I felt when it was over. We weren't yet at her room, or mine and she was clutching my shoulders with the servants staring. She was close to me, so close I could feel the heat rising from her face.

"Well, they attempted first to humiliate me, and then to humiliate you—"

"Attempted? They humiliated me. And let them mock you."

"With all due respect, Afali." I kept my voice as level as I could. "It's your decision whether to feel humiliated or not. You can only be embarrassed if you allow yourself the vulnerability of fearing how you're seen."

I saw Afali's arm rise, and clenched my teeth tightly just as the hard slap landed across my face. My eyes watered, and I stumbled sideways before regaining my balance.

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