A few days had passed before Jonathan and Eva saw one another again. Each morning the king sent a note with his deepest regrets, stating that he had urgent business to attend to. She was happier to take breakfast in her room with Kate. The Falconer was at the palace whenever his duties spared him, and she had no wish to break her fast in his company.
Jonathan’s wounds had hardly been serious. Although quite a fuss was made over him as he was carried into the palace, it was soon deemed that his state of near-catatonia was more attributable to shock than loss of blood, and aside from wincing when he stretched his back, he was quickly back to normal. None of this made the Falconer feel well-disposed towards Eva, though, and this was reflected in the manner of her captivity – a guard stood at her door day and night now, and she was never alone except in her own chambers. She didn’t bother trying to dismiss him. She recognized the Falconer’s hand in all of this. His guard was loyal, and would be until the very end.
Three days after the catastrophe at the clerk’s office, she was invited to sit at the high table, during the Midsummer Festival.
By this time, Lord Gallow had been officially declared missing.
There were no bounties on him yet, and no criminal accusations levelled against him. Far from giving Eva hope, it only served to convince her that the Falconer looked for more evidence before he could make a formal statement.
It would be her first public appearance since the humiliating arrest. No doubt some had noticed the change of activity surrounding the Gallow mansion – the servants and masters no longer came and went, and the front yard was full of soldiers. Those same people would be watching her tonight, gauging her demeanor.
When the time came, she was dressed in a deep blue adorned with golden thread. Her skirt belled at the waist and her long sleeves draped nearly to the floor. Her bodice was cut high and her hair had been pulled up to match.
Her daughter had been dressed in a lighter blue with a softer silhouette, more fitting to her age. Her hair was curled and fell around her face in soft brown waves. Though the family jewelry was still at the Gallow home, the king had generously offered them the loan of any royal adornment they might wish. Kate wore a silver necklace and sapphires in her ears; Eva had placed golden bracelets on her wrists and a shining dark opal pin tucked into her hair.
The Falconer noticed their gems as they joined the retinue that would enter behind the king. His thin mouth tightened and when she approached he inclined his head in the barest acknowledgement of her presence.
The Midsummer Festival was supposed to be one of the grandest affairs of the year. This festival had been planned long before the attack on the station, but the excitement had been dampened by the increased security. In addition to the king’s personal guard, a company of the Falconer’s men stood outside of the palace. Their stoic expressions and tall rifles did nothing to reassure the wedding guests. And for the past three days, the magician’s wall had blazed all around the city, filling the night with an eerie green fire that kept anyone from coming or going. It made for a rather more subdued party than previous years.
As she and Kate joined the retinue they curtsied to the king. He was deep in conversation with one of his advisors and spared them no more than a brief greeting.
Eva stepped back and turned instead to Jonathan, who was speaking politely (though not very comfortably) with a young woman a year or two older than Kate. She was a stunning girl, with auburn hair and deep blue eyes, dressed all in white and gold. Her delicate features reminded Eva of Lady Hartwin, who stood a few feet away in conversation with Aldor, the doctor. Every few seconds her eyes flickered to the girl.
Eva had to stifle a laugh as Jonathan gratefully turned away from his too-charming companion and addressed her. “Good evening, my lady. I trust you have been well? Good evening, Miss Gallow,” he said to Kate, who curtsied. Eva just caught the venomous glare of Miss Hartwin before she slid away.
“Quite well, thank you,” she replied. “But it was you we had reason to fear for, Your Majesty.”
“Not at all. And I am fully recovered now – with the exception of my pride, of course. I have not been so scolded by my elder brother since I flung mud on his best shirt when we were children.”
She stepped closer. “Word from Daniel?” she asked softly.
He shook his head. “No word, no sight. I know he would have written, if he could. That paper you gave me…” He stopped and glanced around. “Perhaps this is neither the time nor place.”
Eva could not help smiling this time. “Indeed. We seem to have driven away your charming companion.”
“Miss Hartwin?” To his credit, he managed not to blush, though he could not look Eva in the face. “She made her debut two days ago. Of course, Aldor wouldn’t let me leave the palace so my congratulations had to wait.”
“I see,” said Eva archly.
It was a poorly-kept secret that every woman of wealth or name in Siege City hoped that her daughter would marry the king’s brother. Ever since breaking off his first (and only) engagement seventeen years before, Jonathan had shown little inclination to marry. Rumours of an illigitimate child had circulated for a while, but had come to nothing. And Jonathan had managed to stave off the advances of every mother-in-law ever since.
“But what of you?” Jonathan turned to Kate. “Your mother was married by the time she was your age.”
Kate lifted one eyebrow and gave him the well-practiced look so common to girls her age. Her large eyes seemed to ridicule him for even thinking her fit to marry one of the idiots in her social circle.
“Of course, we won’t discuss Kate’s debut without her father present,” Eva said hastily.
“Of course,” he acquiesced. He pressed his lips together to suppress amusement.
At last the doors were opened to the hall, and the king and his retinue entered.
The guests in the hall sank to their knees at once, and bowed their heads as the king passed. They were not obliged to keep them downcast once he moved on, of course, and so they were able to peek at the rest of the retinue. Not a few of them were casting glances at Eva and Kate – so they had noticed the change of pace at the Gallow mansion.
The king’s hall was high-domed and grandly adorned and gilded. The black and white marble floor had space for a thousand guests, and a small stage in the back allowed enough room for the royal orchestra to fit in. The ceiling had been painted by some unnamed master centuries ago, and the once bright colors had faded to the barest outline of angels and saints. At the front of the hall, where the king’s table was laid, five enormous glass windows looked out over the city.
The king’s table had been set with the first course. When he at last took his seat, the rest of his retinue did the same, and the guests below stood. They had their own dining area as well, and the servants had begun to bring out bowls and platters of food for their consumption.
Though Miss Hartwin’s mother did her absolute best to place her daughter at the side of the prince, Jonathan managed to seat himself between Eva and his brother, and across from Doctor Aldor. Aldor took every opportunity to shoot Eva a suspicious glance, as though he, too, felt her responsible for Jonathan’s injury at the clerk’s office.
The festival was a strange thing. There was little dancing and more than a few glanced toward the windows with some apprehension.
Outside, the evening air took on a green caste, like the gates of some hell. Eva tried to ignore it but she saw Kate’s glance drawn more than once out the window and away from the table’s conversation.
The king ate slowly and took the time to discuss many different things with those around him. He seemed in pain whenever he swallowed, and reached often for his wine.
At last he pushed his plate aside and asked Lady Hartwin to accompany him to the floor. As they saw him stand, the orchestra began a slow waltz.
Eva found herself presented with the Falconer’s hand.
She couldn’t refuse. She took it and he pulled her out of her chair and onto the floor. With one arm around her waist he guided her between the other couples.
“I didn’t realize you danced,” she remarked.
“It is not the talent for which I am most known. But I am capable.”
“Why dance with me? You can’t possibly enjoy it.”
“You’re rather hard on yourself, my lady,” he said with a brief, sardonic smile. “But essentially correct. However, I felt this the easiest way to speak with you under the circumstances.”
“What circumstances? And what could you possibly have to say to me?” she asked.
The Falconer leaned forward until his mouth was nearly against her ear. He spoke with all the appearance of a lover to his mistress: “Jonathan’s love for his friend has made him blind to some of the possibilities before him,” he murmured. “He would ride into fire to save your lord. I am still watching you – and your lovely daughter. And if you have betrayed us-”
She jerked back and her feet stilled by themselves. Two red blotches had appeared on her cheeks, both the shock of his intimacy and outrage at his intimation. She felt the furtive glances that other dancers and watchers were casting them, and kept her voice appropriately low. “You forget that you are servant and not master,” she hissed. “If the king believes the truth of my claims, then what you think means nothing.”
“The king is not hindered by his emotions,” the Falconer replied. They began to dance again. “He understands the necessity of remaining-”
Before he could finish, the sky outside flared bright green. Many gasped; the orchestra faltered and the waltz fell out of time. Every guest turned towards the windows. Green tendrils shot like flames through the sky, turning every face ghostly pale.
They seemed to be coming from one place in particular, a section of wall far off to the left. Without wishing it, Eva found herself turning towards the Falconer, a question in her eyes.
He caught her look and that thin mouth twitched. “Someone has tried to get in – or out,” he said. “I hope you will forgive the intolerable rudeness, but I’m afraid business calls me away.” He dropped her hands and strode from the hall, but no one noticed him leave.
After a few moments the king signaled to the orchestra, and they struck up again. Rather grudgingly many couples returned to the dance, but conversation was scattered and worried, and all eyes were turned inexorably towards the great windows and the green beacon of light.
Click here to read Chapter Nine.