Chapter 18: Unexpected guests.
I was dusting the library when another maid rushed in in a bundle of nerves. Her eyes search the room frantically until she finds me next to a shelf, a colorful duster in hand. I recognize her as the daughter of the head maid of the castle; she´s a few years older than me and has a small baby bump that shows even with the apron of the uniform.
“Good morning, Amanda. How can I help you?” I try to sound neutral but my face must be showing the curiosity I feel right now.
“Hello, miss Enid. I recall you saying to have experience in big households? We have important people arriving tomorrow around noon.” The words left her mouth so fast I barely could make them apart. I nodded; we’d been preparing for their arrival the last couple days. “We’ve been informed of additional guests a few minutes ago, and we need some extra help with the small gathering requested.”
In other words, more people were coming and they needed help to fix the bedrooms and plan a last-minute party. I agreed to help as long as lord Ditka approved of my intervention, not wanting to abuse their hospitality. I finished the dusting at the speed of light and headed to the kitchen where the staff was reorganizing today’s schedule.
Forty-five minutes and a letter of approval to do as I pleased later, I was reorganizing the whole plan a maid was explaining when I joined the rest of the servants. The general idea wasn’t terrible, but the steps to follow were so scrambled and sometimes unnecessary it’d have taken us twice the time to achieve a mildly acceptable party.
“It kind of suits you to be bossing around.” Sean whistled. I’d asked for him to assist me in order not to make cultural mistakes; other servants had offered their help but he was the person I trusted the most in the empire besides Krishna, he’d tell me if there was something wrong with my indications.
“Should I boss you around too?” I teased him with a mocking seductive tone, an amused smirk scaping me at the end and ruining my acting.
He smirked back at me and ruffled my head, messing up my hair. I smacked his hand away and jogged out of the room to supervise what the others were doing and to help with the decorations; I missed Ilse and her ability so much right now. Sean followed suit hot in my heels.
Over the past weeks, more so since I opened up to him, our friendship had strengthened. My mild attraction to his amazing good looks faded completely and was replaced by a brotherly feeling that he reciprocated fully. Sean made me feel included and cared for in a way I imagined siblings would be with each other.
After our little escapade outside the palace grounds, he started confiding more and more on me; and I learned he was in love with one of the girls from the kitchen named Sophie. A pretty little thing with curly blonde hair, hazel eyes and freckled nose. When I first saw her, I couldn’t help to think she was the complete opposite of Sean with his lean, tall and dark constitution; but after spending a couple days hanging out in the kitchen, I noticed how alike their personalities were.
“Very well, lover boy, please go to the kitchen and verify everything is in order. If they need anything from town, they must tell you now so that we can have it delivered early in the morning. Take your time.” I winked in his direction, earning an eyeroll back, but he headed to the kitchens nonetheless.
The day went by in the blink of an eye. Getting everything ready for a party wasn’t my favorite activity, and this castle was significantly bigger than Lancaster Manor. Luckily, this party was rather small; the evening version of a tea party to welcome lord Ditka’s mother and her guests. Apparently, she was visiting to plan her son’s 29th birthday; but as every high-class noblewoman, her arrival required a party of its own.
Now, this bit of information made me understand the panic attack of Amanda. If everything ran smoothly, nobody would mention it as it is what’s expected from a count. But, if something went wrong, there would be hell to pay. And I was the lucky one standing in the first row of the firing line, next to those who approved of my participation. Sometimes I think I enjoy the adrenaline, or I’m a straight masochist, for accepting this kind of jobs.
Either way, I stayed up with the other servants almost until dawn to get everything ready; from the guest rooms, to the decorations of the dining hall, and the preparations in the kitchen. When I finally was satisfied with the state of the castle everyone scrammed to get a few hours of rest; I was fast sleep before my head touched the pillow.
Morning was a frenzy with the last-minute details. As noon came, the small caravan with guests arrived. Seven carriages and a few dozens of knights parked at the main entrance, the servants lined up in their best uniforms. Lord Ditka was standing at the front in a stoic stance. As I wasn’t part of the permanent staff, my presence wasn’t required outside but I posted myself near a window to catch a glimpse of the newcomers.
From where I was standing, I saw duchess Ditka, a petite woman with blonde hair, get down of the carriage and hug her son effusively. I’m too distracted stalking in the mother-son moment that I lost sense of my surroundings and didn’t notice the rest of the guests getting down of their carriages and entering the castle a few feet from me.
Just as I was retreating from the window a shriek took me out of my trance. “Enid, is that you?” a pair of thin arms hugged me and my brain is working at full capacity trying to place the familiarity of this women in the foreign empire when my eyes lock with a familiar red-headed man and everything clicks in place.
“Krishna, lord Whiteclay, what are you doing here?” I push my friend a little breaking our embrace and trying to wrap around my mind the fact that they’re here.
“What do you mean why?” Krishna is scowling at my, anger oozing out in waves and I feel sorry for the poor soul at which it’s directed, silently praying it wasn’t me. “We received a letter saying you were injured and describing you like a criminal to be wary of. I swear that whoever wrote that letter is going to hear a thing or two from me. What in the name of the gods happened?”
I laughed as a treacherous tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it out and hugged Krishna back taking her off guard. “I can’t believe you are here. When I…” I couldn’t finish my sentence when an loud voice cut me off.
“What do you think you are doing?” an authoritative and clear voice echoed in the hall, every other noise vanished and you could hear the drop of a pin.
Duchess Ditka stood a few steps away from where I was hugging Krishna, arms crossed in her chest and a disapproving frown in her lips.
My eyes searched the ones of my friend as I slowly released her, noticing the violation to the protocol; even if she was my friend, right now I was working and Krishna was a noble lady while I was a mere maid. I opened my mouth to apologize and explain myself to the countess when a stinging pain crosses my cheek and my head turns violently to the side.
I blink once, then twice, until the metallic taste of blood snaps me out of my confusion. The countess had slapped me and busted open my lip with the force of the contact; she sure hits hard. I’ve never been slapped before; I think as hot blood slides down my chin. I quickly cover my mouth to avoid staining the marble tiles, cleaning blood is a real pain.
I lift my eyes to find the bewildered faces of everyone but the countess in the room. Krishna is shaking at the outrage and I can see the words brewing in her head, so I shake my head trying to say everything is fine. I’d smile, but I doubt my bloody teeth would appease her.
“I apologize, my lady.” I finally speak, breaking the spell in the room, my voice muffled under my hand. “I’ll take the guests to their chambers.” A bow deeply to show my respect and to stop the situation to escalate. With my free hand I take Krishna’s handbag and head upstairs, I can hear her hurry behind me and loud whispering as we leave.
“I’ll explain everything but before I need to use your bathroom, and maybe call for Sean while I’m at it?” That was part of the reason but I also wanted them to cool down a little before I explained everything that had been going on the last two weeks. Krishna nodded and gave a pointed look to her husband, who understood right away and left to ask for Sean.
I washed myself careful not to stain anything and once the bloody mess that was my face was taken care off, I inspected my lip closely. The tender skin was busted, an irregular nasty gash crossed my bottom lip from inside of one corner and to the middle of the outer side; no wonder it was bleeding so much.
“Enid, the healer is here.” Krishna’s voice reached me from the other side of the door.
Sean was standing uncomfortably near the entrance holding a small first aid bag, the sound of the door made him look at me and my busted lip.
“Who did this to you?” alarm crossed his face and hurried to where I was standing, bending at the waist to reach for my face and inspect the damage. “At least this time it wasn’t a wolf and won’t leave a scar.” He winked and I gave him a murderous glare, my voice unenviable at the moment to tell him how unamusing it was.
“Wolf? What do you mean a wolf?” lord Henry seemed a little confused, as an experienced hunter, he knew two weeks weren’t enough to recover from a wolf attack.
I sighted at the worried and confused look of my friend and her husband and gave a meaningful look at Sean, silently asking him to explain what had transpired while he worked on my lip. Apparently, he couldn’t heal it immediately, he had to clean up the wound first and he was taking his sweet time.
“Miss Enid was found in the forest by my lord and a few knights that were out hunting.” Sean’s voice was steady and cautious, preparing the ground to tell the concerning events that leaded to my current situation inside the castle. “A wolf was chasing her, it almost caught her but lord Ditka killed the animal; unfortunately, the wolf injured her severely in the back. They got to the castle just in time to save her and thanks to my ability her recovery was fairly fast.” He paused and closed his eyes, his power flowing from his fingertips to my lip and I felt the flesh knitting back together as a self-explanation. “But she spoke in a foreign language before passing out and didn’t have anything to identify her within her belongings. I believe that’s the reason behind my lord’s letter addressed to you, to get rid of any suspicious against her.”
The room was filled with silence, the past weeks’ events sinking in. Suddenly, Krishna stepped up and hugged me tightly. “I’m still mad at the moron who wrote the letter, but I’m so glad you are fine now.”
I left the room after catching up with her to let them get ready for the small dinner party I’d helped to organize. They would stay until lord Ditka’s birthday party in two days and then would go back to her family house for another week before going back to the Seven Lands.
Krishna expressed her concerns about me staying here and if I didn’t find anything before their departure, I would go to her family home too.
The walk to my room was very short, but when I turned the last corner, I found a dark silhouette leaning against my door frame.
Hello, dear readers.
So... the dutchess is a gem, isn't she? To be completely honest, right now she's nameless. Any sugestions for a whicked woman thirsty of power?
Kiddind. Or not? haha
Anyways, I hope you enjoy the chapter. We are going full speed to the juicy part, so please stay tunned.