It did occur to me later that when Dana said ‘customer’ she might have actually meant ‘hiring a girl to feed her vampire daughter’, but I was now stuck with the possibility that Mother has been carrying on with a (female) prostitute. I honestly did not need that mental image.
It was stuck in my head in the morning while Mother stood at the gate, bidding me goodbye in the drive, as the help finished loading up the carriage which would be following me to school.
Why ‘following me’? Because I apparently was not allowed to refuse a ride in the royal coach which was waiting in the same drive. Rod had sent it, along with the full complement of footmen and escort knights, to pick me up. I was a little surprised that he hadn’t personally come to pick me up, but apparently he had student council duties to attend to.
Yeah. There’s also a student council. There had to be one and the prince had to be in it, right? I’ve nearly given up taking Huade seriously at this point.
So I was standing there, listening to Mother while trying very hard not to imagine her and Dana together. Look, Robert enjoyed a fair amount of adult entertainment in addition to his fantasy novels habit, and girl-on-girl was a favorite subject. He was a guy in his twenties, you know?
I really, really, reeeally did not need that mental image.
Especially since, in my fatigue– Carson had for some reason kept me up late, insisting on doing a refresher course of my dance lessons (as he had been my dance instructor growing up)– my mind was trying to wander, and that was a ripe subject to wander off to.
Fortunately, Mother was demonstrating none of her apparent mind-reading skills (I don’t think she can; she’s just an uncannily good guesser.) Or perhaps she was too busy giving instructions to pay attention to the images I was trying to purge from my head.
“I will be there this evening for the entrance ceremony. Make sure you make the duchy proud.”
“And you have to come home next rest day for the fitting of your engagement dress. I’ve already made arrangements with the dressmaker.”
“We canceled the original appointment because you weren’t back from your mission yet. I know there was nothing you could do about it, dear, but we mustn’t stand her up a second time. It isn’t polite.”
“I’ve already given instructions to the staff of the house we’ve purchased for you near the school. It was occupied by the Marquess of Dorfin’s daughter until a year ago, so it should be perfectly fitting for you, but if there is any way in which it is lacking, you are not to tell the staff to not mind it. Allow them to do their job.”
“And…” she stopped for a moment, as if she had planned to say something and changed her mind, then shook her head and said, “Do enjoy yourself, dear. You have to conduct yourself properly of course, but try to spend your time there as a student rather than a knight.”
That puzzled me. “Mother?”
She dropped her voice a bit, and stated, “I can sense that you are a different soul, but in so many ways you are still the same. You are just too much like her. In you, I will finally see my daughter stand among the young women of this realm. Her chance to play with the other young fairies was stolen by the fairy nobility while she was still an infant, and her chance to play with young humans was stolen by the human nobility that refused to allow you near their young. But none of them have the power to steal your school years from you.”
Her explanation didn’t explain anything to me about what she meant by ‘spending time as a student rather than a knight’. I guess my puzzled frown made that clear, because she added, “If you go among your fellow students as a knight, you will hold them at arm’s length. Be one of them, Tiana. Be a young noblewoman. That’s the advice I have for you. Make sure you do that, so that I can see you standing among them, not apart from them.”
I wasn’t sure, but I thought I might understand, so I nodded. “Yes, Mother.”
# # #
The house in Copen was far larger than I thought I would need, but it turned out, the three attendants I was allowed to bring were just the limit that would be permitted to enter the school facilities. I actually had two Pendor house knights, two footmen, a gardener and a half-dozen maids in all. Only the gardener and the head maid (actually, the ‘housekeeper’, which is what the head maid is called when she is doing double-duty as the butler) were holdovers from the previous owner. The rest were Dorians that Mother had sent ahead to prepare the house for me. Except, of course, Genette, my lady’s maid.
They welcomed us when the royal carriage pulled up to the front in a miniature version of the receiving line that the Atius residence staff gives my mother whenever she returns from Pendor.
I did manage to catch some sleep in the carriage (very high-class magically enhanced suspensions are very high class!) with Genette somehow enduring my use of her shoulder as a pillow the entire way. So I was somewhat more energetic as I stepped onto the grounds of my new residence.
Naturally, I was forbidden from helping unpack. The gardener and head maid led me on a tour of the house and grounds while the rest of the staff sorted out the luggage.
I took it all in while once again wondering if any money was actually still left in Pendor. By all reports Mother’s province was prospering– unlike typical fairies, Mother has centuries of experience living amidst humans and their affairs that she puts to good use growing Pendor’s economy– but I sometimes had to wonder how they managed to fund Mother’s lavish spending. This house most certainly was ‘fitting’. Frankly, it was too large. But the head maid was apologetic about the bath that was not yet complete.
Yes, they were adding one of Mother’s ridiculous baths. Builders were currently constructing a hexagonal turret at one end of the house, adjacent to the Master Bedroom, sturdy enough to accommodate the weight of an enormous bath on the second floor. The area beneath would become a new boiler room and the current bath, which faced south, would become a new solarium.
If it wasn’t already half-finished, I would have said ‘don’t bother, I can use the existing bath’. Mother probably knew that, and that’s why she hadn’t told me in advance.
But it meant that the Young Mistress would have to sleep in the guest room for now. The housekeeper seemed terribly embarrassed.
I felt like taking her back to Atius and showing her my bunk at the Knights’ Barracks for comparison. She had nothing to apologize for, frankly. I had already seen the guest room in question, and it was gorgeous. Apparently it was scandalously small for a ducal daughter, but it was bigger than any bedroom Robert ever slept in.
I did end up with one issue. Looking around the yard with Basil the gardener, I saw rose bushes, jasmine arbors and plots for flowering annuals. The place was a little too crowded.
I asked, “Where shall I exercise?”
He was taken aback. “Exercise, Young Mistress?”
I gave him a puzzled frown. “I’m a royal knight. I have to keep my body and my swordsmanship in shape.”
“But, Young Mistress, a young noblewoman such as yourself…”
“… needs to practice her swordsmanship, because she is a royal knight,” I stated, cutting him off before he could say anything that would piss me off.
He cleared his throat, then grew an embarrassed smile. “Yes, Young Mistress. Perhaps… if you come with me?”
I followed him around to the side, which was clearly a work and storage area for the construction crew adding the turret to the other end of the house.
He explained, “This area must be restored once the renovations are completed. Would it be large enough to provide you with a sufficient exercise ground?”
I looked around, imagining the place without the piles of lumber and brick, and the worktables where various items were in various states of manufacture, and made a rough estimate of the area’s size.
“What would normally go here?” I wondered.
“We grew fresh vegetables and herbs for the previous owners in this spot.”
I frowned. “It would be a shame to lose that…”
“It wasn’t actually a good spot for them,” he assured me. “It would have been better to grow such things on the south side of the house.”
“That’s over there right?” I asked, pointing to the back lawn, where we had just been before walking over to this spot. “Why don’t we do that?”
He blinked. “Young Mistress?”
“Flowers are fine, but do we actually need this many? It seems cluttered.”
He cleared his throat again. “I actually had the same thought, but the previous owner…”
“…doesn’t own this place anymore?” I asked sweetly.
He blinked, then grew a broad smile and nodded. “Yes, Young Mistress.”
“I would rather keep the tea pavilion, and the arbor. Without disturbing those, what would be the best place for the vegetable garden?”
“Well… over to the side, Young Mistress. The plants growing on those trellises are actually blackberries, so it’s appropriate to put the rest of the kitchen garden with them. And the blackberries do well there because the sun is good on that end.”
I smiled and nodded. “Then do that, please. It’s already a bit late for planting, isn’t it? You should get started as soon as you can.”
He was slightly taken aback, “The Young Mistress doesn’t mind seeing vegetable plants when she takes her tea on the pavilion?”
Puzzled, I asked him, “Is there something unsightly about vegetable plants that I’ve not noticed yet?”
Basil blinked, then grew an even warmer smile. “Of course not, Young Mistress.”
He’s a gardener. I definitely scored some points with him, with that question.
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