The Duke’s court customarily celebrated Holy Week with somber ceremonies. This year, however, the possibility of war occupied everyone’s thoughts and the nightly rituals recalling the sufferings of Christ were not the usual sorrowful enactments of ancient tradition. A restless energy, barely suppressed, enervated the court. The sobs, the torn shirts, the breast-beatings had a strange intensity. Prayers were especially passionate. Even on Holy Saturday, after the candles had been put out on Good Friday and the hours of silence began, urgent whispers could be heard in the dim corridors.
On Sunday, this hushed energy burst forth. The chapel bells pealed. Lights were lit again. The fast ended in feast and the court exploded in joyous laughter, not all for the sake of the Resurrection.
Mara hadn’t pressed her father for his answer during Holy Week, but on Easter Sunday the Duke received petitions from Northlander citizens in the State Hall and she was resolved to address him then.
The State Hall was the oldest part of the Palace. Dafythe had taken care to have it repaired rather than demolished when he rebuilt his new manor from the old castle. Its stone faces were crumbling and its outer embellishments worn indistinguishable. The flagstones within were polished smooth and deep grooves had worn into the twin staircases to the galleries above by thousands of feet over the centuries. Here, the first Lord of the Northlands, Robert Gilthair, had held audience with his subjects on holidays and days of festival. His ancestors continued to carry on this tradition.
Commoners waited for the Duke on the Palace lawns, but members of the Council, merchant families of prominence and local nobility had gathered in the ancient Hall. The Layn Mayor was there with her husband and children. Bel and her Shieldmaids accompanied Mara in their best dress uniforms. The courtiers wore their finery; the elders were dressed in traditional, trailing formal robes while the younger folk had chosen more modern fashion.
The Lady Laurel had only recently thrown off the loose-fitting robes of pregnancy to put on clothes much like those she’d worn as a maiden. Her tunic of noble blue was cut several inches above the knee. Lace trimmed the front of her blouse and more lacy frills were sewn along the outer seam of each shirtsleeve to be pulled through gaps in the embroidered bands of her tunic sleeves. After years of more modest and austere tailoring, the Lady’s wardrobe was unconventional and even somewhat shocking to the Pendaunzel court, but it was said that the courtiers of Paris dressed in similar fashion. Kat and others had already begun to copy her.
Lord Redmantyl’s son Orlan had taken up the style of the court: a cluster of slender braids were woven into one plait of his long curls and tied with red ribbon; frills of lace were sewn onto his shirt-sleeves and pulled through the slashed sleeves of his tunic; the tunic’s hemline had been taken up several inches above the knee. In sooty grey, scarlet and silver, he was striking figure even among the bright courtiers. He drew the giggling attention of young damosels as his father drew more discreet attention from older noblewomen.
“What a little peacock that boy is,” Ambris murmured to Mara and Kat.
“He’s a handsome lad and he knows it,” Kat answered. Her costume was similarly brief and fashionable in princely white and blue. “But where did he find a tailor to make the alterations so swiftly?”
“He probably did it himself,” Laurel said as she joined them.
“All that trimming and hemming?” asked Mara.
“All magicians are skilled in needlecraft,” the Lady explained. “They have to embroider the spells they wear on their clothes.”
This was a surprising piece of information. “You mean that My Lord Redmantyl did all that beautiful black and gold fancy-work on his robes himself?” said Kat.
“Every stitch is his own work,” Laurel assured her. “The spells wouldn’t be effective otherwise.”
Kat smiled. “But, Laurel, you can’t sew a straight seam to save your life.”
“Exactly so. `Tis why I’m no longer a magician.”
The Princes exchanged a glance. It was sometimes difficult to know when Laurel was joking.
While they had been speaking, Lord Rafenshighte approached Orlan. The nobleman spoke softly; the boy first appeared surprised at his words, then he smiled shyly.
“Oh, Christ,” said Kat. “And him about to take his mage vows!”
“I’ll go put a stop to it before my cousin finds himself in trouble.” Laurel crossed the room to distract Orlan with a playful remark. As she drew him away, Ambris stepped forward to intercept Rafenshighte. After a whispered warning, Rafenshighte laughed and retreated gracefully.
“A pretty lad isn’t safe with that rakehell,” Kat observed. “If My Lord Redmantyl should see…”
Lord Redmantyl was not in sight. Gossip this last week whispered that he’d been seen walking in the gardens with Martleanne, dancing with Damosel Ariane, speaking privately with Lady Kyntauke. Those who noticed his absence now casually scanned the crowd for missing ladies.
“Is Father down yet?” Mara asked when her brother returned. Laurel remained with her dandified cousin.
“Not yet,” answered Ambris.
“Have you heard? Has he decided?”
“I don’t know, Mara. He’s been shut in his chambers since he returned from this morning’s Mass. You’ve made him a request which he finds difficult to answer.”
“The answer is obvious–”
Seven young boys in the Duke’s dark blue and gold livery came through the open doors between the two stairways. On the little landing above the main floor, they fell into formation: three to the right, three to the left. Trumpets blared. The seventh boy, the new herald, stepped to the front. As he looked down at the crowd in the hall below him, his eyes grew wide and blank.
Laurel turned to Orlan with an anxious look; her cousin only lifted his eyebrows and shrugged.
Andemyon shut his eyes and squeaked out, “Gentle nobles, good citizens, all hail thee Dafythe Ambris Gabriel Lyonsbloode Plantagenet, Prince of the Norman Empire, Grand Duke, Sovereign Lord Governor and Protector of the Northlands by Grace of God!”
He’d gotten the Duke’s name slightly wrong and had left out Dafythe’s titles as Preserver of the Peace and Defender of the Faith, but it wasn’t a bad first announcement. Some boys muddled it completely. Dafythe made his entrance to cheers and applause. Bertrande, at the Duke’s right, gently took his grandfather’s elbow and escorted him down the steps. The little procession made its way through the Hall to the Duke’s Seat at the far end. Dafythe passed from one guest to the next, receiving hands, speaking with distracted courtesy. When he reached his children, Ambris, then Mara, then Kat each performed the ceremonial gesture of respect by offering him their hands and bowing their heads.
Mara whispered, “Father?”
“Ah, you have a petition for me?” the Duke replied, also in whisper.
“Only the request I made you at the Council Monday. Do you have an answer?”
“I’ve thought of little else. No, Mara, I will not grant your request.”
“Daughter, it is not proper that we speak of this now.” Dafythe went on to take his seat and hear the petitions of his subjects before Mara could protest.