The Court of Light’s silver veined white stone floors glossy surface reminded me that I had probably ignored too many undergarments when I had dressed that morning. Thank goodness Fiena had insisted on the basics, and any adventurous gazes would find nothing too remarkable to comment upon.
“I hate these floors,” I muttered to Akyran.
He leaned over my shoulder and then met my gaze with a grin. “I’m rather partial to them,” he commented mildly, unembarrassed by his lechery. “You missed a couple of layers dressing today, Ecaeris.”
“Akyran,” I muttered. “Stupid petticoats.”
“Hmmm,” he arched his brows. “I doubt the men of the court will complain.”
As we moved through the halls into the audience chamber, he was polite enough to stay on the side where the reflection most exposed me. It was not a full moon, when audiences were held, so the chamber was organised informally, with clusters of seating, and fools and bards playing. Laughter rang out from a card game played festively by a group of younger courtiers.
Everything was too white and pastel for my tastes, the gossamer curtains that billowed in the doorways and the courtier’s layers of sheer seemed to combine into a room of white and spun sugar, cloying, sweet, and entirely too fabricated. How could anyone stay clean enough an entire day to not mar the paleness of their clothing, or not manage to tear those delicate layers? I wondered.
The Queen Leamoira reclined amongst her courtiers, listening to an epic poem recital by two young lovers who gazed at each other as if breath began on the other’s lips. She spotted us as we entered and exclaimed, rising to her feet in a whisper of the finest fabrics.
“Akyran and Ecaeris,” she flowed forth. I curtseyed and then breathed in her perfume of Fae rose harvested by moonlight as she embraced him and then me. “How lovely to see you both.”
“Mother,” Akyran replied stiffly. He was angry with her I knew from his many complaints when we were alone. Since Rivyn’s successful return from his quest with a wife and a child on the way, she had been encouraging Akyran’s twin to take on more responsibility for the Court of Light, tempering Akyran’s judgements publicly, which he found frustrating and humiliating. He felt he had lost his brother, his ally and friend, to Siorin, who had become Rivyn’s obsession. “We thought we might organise a round of chovgan on the lawn.”
“Oh, the poor grass,” Leamoira smiled. “But it will be a fine entertainment. I’ll organise for tables to be moved onto the terrace nearby.”
“Wonderful,” he was short with it, indifferent as to whether there was an audience or not. He did not play for the applause, but for the competition. “Where is father hiding?”
“Oh, probably in some small room filled with large men, leaning over maps and drinking spirits,” she waved a hand airily. “He likes to talk of war, but not to commit to it.”
“Mmm,” Akyran’s eyes were distant with thought. As long as King Treyvin did not commit to war, I could almost hear him thinking. His next question confirmed my suspicion. “And Rivyn?” Akyran’s brother was pushing for Fae intervention in the war and had already begun the process by creating Intuin Desparen for Diandreliera – a sword no one was entirely sure the abilities of.
I suspected that Rivyn had, in fact, done no more than glamour a random blade, to make it seem magical. I had never heard of a truly magical blade being made overnight, nor a mage not keen to boast of the wonderful thing he had created. All Rivyn would say on the matter was that it would only work for Diandreliera’s line, and it’s purpose would be revealed in time.
“He’s easier found,” she replied with a mischievous smile. “Just keep an ear out for your sister-in-law and watch for amore in the hallways.”
“Mother,” Akyran muttered, flushing, and shooting me a look under his lashes. I met his gaze and raised my eyebrows. What, did he expect me to feign innocence or fluster like a lady of the court? “It’s hardly decorous to speak of.”
“He married a half-siren,” she dismissed his reprimand. “It’s hardly a secret around this court what the side effects are. An impossible to keep secret, the way it works.”
“Oh, Akyran,” she sighed and cupped his chin in her hands. “So prudish for someone who has bedded half the ladies of both courts.”
“Mother!” He shot me another look as the colour rose hectic in his cheeks.
She laughed and released him. “Oh, Ecaeris is hardly unaware of your proclivities, my son,” she scolded lightly. “It’s a bit late to think to protect her from them.”
He glowered and muttered something under his breath. “Come on, Ecaeris,” he decided. “We’ll see if we can gather a couple of decent rounds of chovgan out of the court.”
By the time Akyran managed to track down his preferred players and I changed out of the blue dress, the horses were ready, and the pretty wrought iron tables, arranged on the terrace overlooking the lawns, set with lace cloths, crystal glasses, chilled wine and finger foods. The King Treyvin and Queen Leamoira sat in pride of place. We bowed to them as we claimed our sticks and mounts from our squires and pages.
“Remember, Ecaeris,” Akyran threw me up onto my mount. “Watch the backswings. Some of them are careless.”
“I’ll remember,” I replied, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Only novices got caught in the backswings of other players. I had been playing almost as long as he. I accepted my stick as he mounted, and he laughed, tossing his long dark hair back and tying it in place with a leather strap before accepting his stick.
We rode to our positions, our horses dancing beneath us, reacting to the excitement of riders and those that watched. The leatherbound ball was thrown and we surged into motion, the ball flying beneath the strike of a stick. Akyran and I rode neck to neck, but he reached the ball, his angle was better, and flung it out towards the score posts.
He laughed over his shoulder at me.
The ball came back towards us, and with it, the flurry of riders from the opposing team. I tussled with another rider. Daryith rode his mount in such a way that we were pressed against each other. He leered at me.
“C’mon, Ecaeris,” he said, his voice heavy with breath as he strained for the ball, trying to distract me. “We all know Akyran’s got a mistress. Isn’t it time you - ”
Whatever he had been going to say was broken off as I struck the ball and we watched it fly straight to Akyran, who stood up in the saddle and met its flight with his stick, sending it soaring back into the goals.
“Two!” He yelled at me triumphantly.
We all know Akyran’s got a mistress, Daryith had said. He had been teasing. He always teased me about getting Akyran into bed when we played, trying to distract me from the game. But Akyran having a mistress was an entirely other matter to taking a courtier to bed. One implied some permanence, whilst the other was fleeting, and without any emotional attachment.
I slammed into Eltarin, winding us both and causing our mounts to snap at each other irritably, the horses as caught up in the play as their riders.
“Little sister,” he acknowledged. “You took your time coming. Quick!” he added, and I saw the ball moving towards us on his bad side. He took my mount’s reins and I leant over onto his horse behind him, striking the ball back towards the goals, whilst halfway between the two horses.
I had returned to my mount when Rivyn rode by. “Not sure if that’s totally a legal move,” he grinned at me. “Fun to watch, but a shot taken between two horses?”
“It scored,” I shrugged, but my attention went to where the king and queen watched. The queen waved a handkerchief, passing the move.
“Ha,” Eltarin clasped my hand in celebration. “Our parents are here,” he added as he released me.
“Why?” I was surprised. I had thought them thoroughly entrenched in the family estate for the season, with our elder brother and his wife, whose first child was newly arrived. I had been to see the babe for the day only a week before, and there had been no indication of any intention by them to attend the Court of Light.
“Oh, come on,” Eltarin laughed. “They wouldn’t miss this...”
I was distracted as oncoming riders collided with my horse. For a moment, Akyran and I rode side to side again. He bared his teeth in a ferocious grin showing the sharpened canine and premolars of the Fae.
“I’m hedged in, Ecaeris,” he told me. The riders pulled back suddenly, parting before an oncoming party. “Ecaeris!” He grabbed me from my horse, putting me before him and I saw his purpose, his grasp on my hips holding me aloft as I leaned out to my utter limits, striking the ball into the goal.
He settled me back before him as the crowds in the terrace celebrated the win. “ - ,” he complained into my hair. “Either I have been too idle, or you have put on weight.”
“That’s not polite,” I retorted, sharply. “Fiena tells me I’m getting womanly curves, which is a much nicer way of putting it.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “The weight is distributed appropriately.”
I shot him a glare over my shoulder, and he flushed again, avoiding meeting my eyes. “I don’t comment on your winter physique, Akyran,” I pouted, annoyed.
“Yes, but you don’t hold my winter physique aloft,” he replied, lightly. “Don’t be sour, Ecaeris. It looks good on you.”
“Was that a compliment?” I retorted, the sharpness in my tone put on, because the question was genuine. Akyran was behaving decidedly... odd. Everyone was behaving oddly. I felt as if I had missed a court secret and needed to catch up on the gossip to understand its foreshadowing in my coterie.
“Are you seeking them, Ecaeris?” he replied laughing.
“I don’t know,” I replied as he guided our horses towards the terrace. “One moment you’re telling me I’m heavy, and the next that it’s not a bad thing. I’m confused.” He slid off the horse and reached up, lifting me down.
“You look good, Ecaeris,” he said, quietly, his words hidden beneath the voices that rose and fell around us. He stroked a lock of hair off my face in a gesture that was on the edge of tender. “Very good.” He turned abruptly and called out Rivyn’s name, moving to greet his brother and leaving me confused and flustered behind him.