Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
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Oh, Calvin! It has been some months since you were here last. I believe six months have passed since I was blessed with your presence, yes? When you earned your shield, isn’t that correct?” Calvin nodded politely. He had been knighted there in the court of Ursana. Had it really been that long ago? “And I hear you are competing this year. How exciting!” She clapped her hands and politely giggled. Grace forced out a smile when the woman looked at her. She was obviously expecting some sort of response.


And who is this lovely lady?”


Duchess Katherine of Actis, may I introduce my cousin, the daughter of Lord Daniel of Arganis, Grace Hilren.”

Something flashed in Katherine’s eyes as she looked upon Grace again. “Daniel’s only child? I am surprised. I thought you would look more like your mother, dear. Lady Dedre was one of the most beautiful women in Cesernan. Yet you are so plain; with your father’s eyes, far too wide for a woman, and his small ears. I suppose the small ears become you, though they did no justice to your father’s face. And that dress! That hardly indicates you are Dedre’s daughter.” Katherine smiled again. “At least you inherited your mother’s nose; petite and ever so upturned. Perfect. Now, I do hope you will sit near us at the feast, Calvin. I made a special request and would be terribly offended if you took up a seat with the other knights. I must be off now.” Grace noted how the invitation was only extended to Calvin.

Grace watched her rush over to a group of other women, ranging in age from girls nearer to her own age of seventeen, to old grandmothers. She hardly believed someone could so casually insult her and then act as though nothing happened. Katherine spoke to the other women and they looked toward her. The younger girls, some already married and pregnant, were giggling, though some tried to hide it, and the grandmothers subtly shook their heads. Dedre’s only child had not made the impression the famed beauty would have wanted.


Do not mind the gossip. The women will accept you soon enough.”

Grace looked over at the gaggle of women Katherine was with. The giggles and head shakes continued. The common thought would be that Grace was too rustic, as well as a disappointment and failure in court life. The young woman locked eyes with Katherine and narrowed them ever so slightly. The duchess turned away.

“Somehow, I highly doubt that.”

~*~*~

Grace found herself sandwiched between Calvin and the extremely fat Lord of Egona during the feast. Katherine was seated across from her and kept sending disapproving stares her way. The old woman was not impressed with the unsavory look Grace had given her before. It made Grace so nervous and angry, she just picked at her food.


No wonder you are so skinny,” Henry of Egona said; brandishing a chicken leg at Grace the same way someone else might shake a finger. “You are missing out on a fantastic feast. King Frederick really went to great lengths this year. I say that every year, of course.” He laughed and patted his belly. “Maybe my tastes are just becoming more and more refined and it becomes possible for me to take note of every spice put into my food. So eat up, girl!”


I am afraid the atmosphere in this room has caused me to lose my appetite, sir,” she said quietly; flashing her eyes quickly in Katherine’s direction. The duchess’s attention was engaged elsewhere at the moment.

Henry seemed to understand and nodded. “Do not mind Duchess Katherine. She is a hound and you are simply a fresh piece of meat. She will talk about you, and there is little that can change it. All the court women are like that. Even our fair Queen Bethany takes part in the gossiping around here. But you…hopefully you will be different,” Henry said; helping himself to Grace’s roll. “Most ladies let it go and soon join Katherine’s assemblage after taking her verbal abuse in silence. But you are outwardly disapproving, and I do hope you stay that way. It would be nice to have a conversation with a female and not have to worry that what is said will be repeated in some knitting circle.”

“So you wish to see me socially ostracized? Disapproving as I may be to gossip circles, I do not wish to spend my adult life on the fringes, always being talked about like a fallen woman.” That much was truth. There was simply no mistaking it. Grace had a duty to marry and bear children. From childhood, she always knew that was what was expected of her whether she wanted that life or not. Being a social pariah would not help her achieve her family’s goals. She was surprised Henry was so open with her about what he thought of the women and how he hoped Grace would turn out.


Kamaria, bless you, child!” Grace found it strange Henry called on the moon goddess. Most men invoked Ciro, the sun god, for blessings. “I meant no such thing. I just wish to see one woman who does not repeat everything in that damned circle. Many of the women who veer away from Katherine do not stay long at court. I think the duchess likes to drive them away. For a while Lady Myra,” he gestured to a pregnant woman who could be no older than nineteen, “was a pupil of mine. At her father’s request, I was to teach her mathematics, geography and history. She, too, was disapproving of the gossip geese, but once she married she apparently forgot. She told me at our last lesson – this being after she announced she was with child – that it would be beneficial to her child to make friends with Katherine. I spoke some words about Katherine, thinking young Myra would never repeat them. Four months ago Katherine was gentle toward me, but now she is ice.”


So I am already socially rejected because I have spoken this long with you?” Confused as she was by his motives, Grace liked this man’s honesty and now she only teased him.

Catching on to her game, the older man smiled. “You can never help who you are seated beside. But please try to keep my name out of that circle when Katherine eventually accepts you. And don’t look at me with those eyes that say ‘she will never have me.’ You are Lady Dedre’s child, and Katherine was always second to Dedre. She’s likely to want to turn you from your mother just out of spite.”

“Then Katherine must think all women are as fickle as she. I will keep all you have said in mind, though I think you have little to fear. You are awfully open about your thoughts and feelings of these women. You had no way of knowing my true alliance when I sat down. Perhaps I secretly longed to be in that circle. But sir, you have nothing to worry about, as I said. I plan on returning to Arganis as soon as the tournament has ended.”


I am an old, fat knight who enjoys food over women. I had nothing to lose should you have looked on Katherine as an angel of social integrity,” Henry said quietly, and put down his fork for the first time. “The ladies hate me already; a newcomer like you could not have damaged my reputation any more. And on another note, I think you should try to stay a bit longer. The tournament is such a small part of what happens here during the spring and summer months. And if rumors be true, you have not been outside your home since Daniel died. Think about staying for a while. These tournaments are not what they used to be, and new blood is always needed.” Grace nodded and Henry smiled. “Every year the same people come out, and it seems so long since fresh faces were seen here. Besides, you bring new conversation and new stories. Calvin has lived in Ursana for so long trying to win his shield that he has no new stories for us.”


What about you, Grace?” Grace looked up and found a good number of people were staring at her, expecting some sort of answer. In her conversation with Henry, she missed the larger conversation going on around them. Katherine knew this and a spiteful light danced in her eyes.


Pardon me?” Grace said. “I did not hear the question.”


We were discussing the vigilante in the north. The one who sees to it that any miscreants traveling his roads find the justice the hooded man thinks they deserve. Our group is split as to his usefulness. After all, his brand of justice conflicts with King Frederick’s law and undermines our gracious king’s authority. His mere presence suggests he does not believe our king is doing a good enough job protecting his subjects. You are from Arganis; what do
you
think of this Death Dealer who rides around the north and deals with those robbers and such?” Katherine asked. Grace knew she was waiting for her to stumble over her response; to say something unacceptable. And she made her opinion known. Katherine was obviously against the Death Dealer, and she wanted to find another reason to hate Grace.


It is a vulgar name for someone who has not yet killed, to our knowledge. But I believe he is doing a service by helping rid our fair kingdom of some of those who live only to harm others.” Grace paused as all eyes remained fixed on her. “Arganis and her port have long been subjected to thieves, murderers and pirates. It is past time our villagers felt some sort of safety. After all, the guards at the Arganis castle do not have the resources to protect every cabin in the north lands. He may violate King Frederick’s rule, but our king has not the resources to protect every person who lives in Cesernan.” Grace was an Arganis native, and that alone caused everyone who listened to nod in agreement. Even Katherine seemed to accept this argument.


I agree,” Henry piped up, taking a break from his food. He gave Grace a quick smile before continuing. “This Death Dealer may be going over the king’s authority, but he is protecting the common folk, and what is a kingdom without its common folk? Our valiant peasants work the land so we might eat at feasts such as this.” He raised his wine glass. “A toast is deserved to those hardworking vassals and to The Death Dealer who is willing to protect them.” Others in earshot raised their glasses in agreement with Henry.

Grace looked at Sir Henry and smiled. If nothing else good came out of this trip, at least she found a friend at court.

~*~*~

             
Out of earshot of Grace’s seat, Tristan Mullery wished he was closer to the Duchess Katherine of Actis. Then he would at least have the chance to get a better look at the young woman who came from the Barony of Arganis. If rumors were true, she was Calvin’s cousin and the only child of Lord Daniel. This was the first time Tristan had seen her. She spent much of her time locked away in her chambers, and was late coming to join everyone else for the feast. He would have to ask Katherine to introduce them, although from the looks of it, Katherine was not fond of the young woman. Then again, Katherine was never overly fond of young, pretty women who came to court.

Tristan leaned over and whispered to Prince Drake, “The girl from Arganis…is she Lord Daniel’s only child?”

Drake nodded. “A reserved thing, isn’t she? I have hardly seen her speak to anyone but Calvin and Henry since she came down from her chambers, but there is something about her.” Drake paused and looked Grace over. Her face was turned away and she seemed completely immersed in a conversation with Henry.


I saw her first.” Tristan gave Drake a light punch on the arm.


You did not! I saw her when she first arrived, and I’m your prince. Do you really want to anger your future king over a woman?”


Perhaps over that woman.” Tristan and Drake both looked directly at Grace. As though she sensed eyes upon her, she looked up and met their wandering eyes. A shiver ran down Tristan’s spine. A woman had never held his gaze for so long without looking away or blushing. This one just stared back with a great intensity in her gray eyes. It seemed unnatural for a woman to stare so. She was not embarrassed as propriety said she should be.

~*~*~

It bothered Grace to have people stare at her, so in order to deter the stares of people, she was prone to locking gazes until her adversaries looked away. This usually caused discomfort, because no one expected a lady to go without blushing or giggling. Currently the Prince and another knight were looking upon her quite intently. Grace kept her gray eyes fixed on them and stared them down. It worked. The Prince and the other young man both looked away from her piercing stare. Had their code of chivalry and manners failed to list ‘staring’ on its pages? She sighed and turned her attention to Henry once more.


Trying to scare off the lads, are you?” Henry was finishing up the last of his dessert, and as he spoke, a bit of pie dribbled down his chin and into his beard. He laughed a bit and wiped it off.


Trying to stop their staring.”


Let sleeping dogs lie, I always say. If they want to stare, let them. Might show Katherine a thing or two if Tristan of Escion and His Highness Prince Drake are after you. For one thing, she might not think you are plain anymore.”

Grace nodded. She was far from plain, but no one here really knew that. As far as anyone was concerned she was only the late Lord Daniel and Lady Dedre’s reserved daughter, who did not share her mother’s enchanting looks and had her father’s piercing eyes. The less everyone knew, the better.

The guests began to follow the King and Queen into the great hall for some after dinner dancing. Grace pushed herself away from the table and curtsied to Henry. It seemed only appropriate, since he was the only one who seemed to see her as a friend and not a plague.


It was a pleasure to speak to you this evening and hopefully I will have the opportunity again, but for now I am exhausted and am going to retire to my room.”

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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