Chapter seven: The viscount' daugther.
It was a warm day with little clouds in the sky and a refreshing breeze flowing playfully between the branches and disheveling the intricate hairdos of the young ladies. Excitement was felt in the air, cheerful laughter and light conversations were heard in the backyard of Roquefort Hall; behind the scenes, cooks, maids, waiters and stable boys were rushing around trying to please every need of the guests from the over twenty noble families of the Seven Lands kingdom. The reason was the Treasure Hunt Party.
There were very few occasions when so many noble people gathered in a single place, but this one was even more important because it was for the young members and the next title bearers to create alliances, increase their influence and make contacts which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
The treasure hunt party is held in the region with the most nobles coming of age or about to inherit their titles attendance. It consists in two simultaneous events, a hunt, where mostly men participate, in which the group with the biggest hunt or the most precious specimen wins; and the search of a treasure inside the main building of the manor, where mostly women work together (or against each other) to solve the riddles faster and win by collecting little prizes or by finding the treasure before time is up.
This year’s host was marquess Roquefort as he had triplets coming of age last spring; ladies Naya, Nidia and Nuria. His property was located a day northeast from Lancaster manor by carriage, near the cold mountain region and despite still being summer, the night proved to be quite cold.
We’d traveled in a small caravan of two carriages for our luggage and ourselves, and a small group of warriors to protect us during the trip near the border of the kingdom. We were officially in good terms with our neighbors but bandits teemed the region and we didn’t want to seem like easy prey.
Damian and I were the only ones attending to the party, he was invited because count Lancaster had announced his retirement to be near and I was attending as a special request from his wife. She saw this as my last opportunity to find a husband this year and I didn’t blame her for that. I was picky and had been focusing in everything but marriage over the last couple of weeks.
Our trip was awkward, to say the least, for I was still not talking to Damian more than necessary to fulfill my professional duties and he was too stubborn to admit what I considered to be his mistake.
For that reason, we spent most of the time reading, napping or admiring the view. At our arrival we were split up to opposite wings of the mansion, only married couples were allowed to share bedrooms, the rest of us had been accommodated aleatory, not even siblings were together in order to bond with other members of society.
I was paired with the daughter of a Viscount from the Volcanic Region named Lisa. She was a very nice person and offered to get ready together for the party, I could tell she was nervous and genuinely trying to make a friend.
Lisa was very talkative, in a matter of minutes she told me everything about her elder brothers, her parents and their farmlands. She didn’t ask questions and I liked that about her, she was obviously curious but gave me space to tell her as much or as little as I wanted. My esteem for her grew after she praised my abilities to style the hair and I told her I was a maid, even though she seemed surprised by that fact she didn’t treat me differently.
“Why are you here, then?” She asked, trying not to be rude.
“I’m kind of the adoptive daughter of a count and his family asked the marquess to let me attend the party” I answered trying not to lose focus on the intricate braid crown I was creating with her long hair. “I came of age recently and the countess wants to marry me well; I might be a maid in the manor but I’m well educated and the counts only had a son, I guess they took a liking of me and if my husband has contacts it might be beneficial for them too”
I saw Lisa pouting from the mirror and couldn’t help but admire her beauty as you would admire an art piece. She had porcelain skin with naturally pink flushed cheeks and delicate red lips, her nose was small and her bright blue eyes impossibly big with long lashes, her hair was now all the way up but when loose it fell down her back like a golden river and reached all the way to the small of her back; her frame was small with a narrow waist, small hips and a height barely surpassing 5 ft that shocked with her plump chest.
“I envy your beauty” I told her with honesty, she was almost the exact opposite from me and surely had multiple suitors eating from her hand. If it weren’t for my determination to find my real family, I’d probably be devastated for being incapable to catch a husband.
“You shouldn’t, my looks are worthless without a good title or a fortune to back it up” she said firmly “This is my third season and I don’t have any suitor yet, my rank is too low and I won’t inherit much; my looks is the only thing I have to catch a man and every season it withers. If nobody chooses me soon, I’ll miss my fertile years and who will want me?” her eyes teared, surprising me.
Her answer caught me off guard, five seconds ago I was thinking exactly the opposite without noticing she was suffering. Not only that, but she was scared of being left alone, incapable to make a life for her own. I hugged her and patted her head softly, trying to comfort her. When our skin touched, I saw a light blue glimmer coming from her, with a little pastel pink closer to her chest.
“Don’t cry, my lady, your face will get all puffy” she gasped worried at my statement and we both burst in laughs at my bad joke. “You are not only incredibly beautiful, lady Lisa, you also are a kind person and I’m sure anyone would be lucky to marry you. So, let’s make the best out of this party and get you a few suitors before the end of the week, shall we?” She smiled brightly, the pink glowing brighter and overpowering the blue, and I decided I would help her during the week as much as I could.
At noon we all were summoned to the gardens at the back of the property to share lunch and officially begin the Treasure hunt party. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, but as a maid I noticed the controlled chaos behind the large gathering.
I saw Damian almost at the front and waved at him, his high status in the region and among the other nobles of the kingdom granted him a symbolic preferential seat; surprisingly enough he acknowledged me with a small nod. Lady Lisa turned to go to the back when I grabbed her.
“Where are you going? Eat with us, there’s plenty of space in the table” I told her and almost dragged her to our table. Usually, in the first day only family members or nobles from the same region would seat together, but because this was an occasion to make new alliances the seating didn’t follow the protocol strictly.
“Fancy of you to finally grace us with your presence, Enid” Damian growled.
I blinked, perplex with his brazen comment in front of a stranger. He wasn’t very happy to come in the first place, but that attitude was rude to say the least. I gulped down my annoyance and decided to make a truce with him for the sake of my new friend.
“What can I say, my lord? A woman must try her best to doll up for such an occasion” I answered him with my best smile, feeling satisfied with his surprised expression at my attempt to mask his previous comment as an inner joke. “Of course, it isn’t that hard for a natural beauty such as my companion. May I introduce you to Lady Lisa, daughter of viscount Frederickton of the Volcanic Region?”
After quickly recovering from his initial surprise, Damian politely greeted Lisa and I could see how she visibly relaxed after being invited to eat lunch with us. I took a seat to the left of Damian and Lisa sat next to me.
We talked about some trivial things while the other guests arrived, mostly about the commercial business between the Forest and the Volcanic regions. Apparently, Lisa’s grandfather had an argument with the previous king, ruining all their contracts with the capital and making it more difficult for her family. Damian promised to try out their product and if it was up to his standard, he would begin a professional relationship with viscount Frederickson.
They were talking details about the products they harvested and produced when a couple approached us and Damian stood up with a broad smile and hugged the man with enthusiasm.
“Man, what are you doing here?” Damian asked, motioning for them to sit with us.
“What did you expect, Lancaster? After your father announced his retirement, mine did the same arguing I already have two heirs. Thanks for that, by the way. If it weren’t for you, I’d have waited another decade to inherit my title” The man said, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.
They were deeply engaged on their conversation and I used the opportunity to study the newcomers. The man in front of us was around the same age as Damian, with ginger hair and light green eyes. He wasn’t particularly handsome but had a big frame and a friendly smile. His wife, I noticed after seeing the band around their fingers, had shiny black curls, warm beige skin and deep brown eyes; she was obviously a foreigner for her dress was very different from the Seven Lands fashion and had many earrings adorning her ears and a shiny diamond in her nose. Her smile was shy but sincere while acknowledging us with a polite nod and I decided I liked her.
“How rude of me” Damian said when the man’s eyes drifted to us “Lady Lisa, Enid; this is my friend Henry Whiteclay and his wife, Baroness Krishna of Sion” he introduced us and I almost choke.