Genette was waving at me from a short distance away. I turned and nodded to her, so she approached.
“Young Mistress, you have a caller. The house is still in disorder. Shall I bring tea to the pavilion?”
“He came here already?” I asked, a little stunned that this was happening so soon.
Genette understood what I was thinking and shook her head. “Ah, no, Young Mistress. It isn’t His Highness this time. Your caller is the head of security for the Royal Academy.”
That made a bit more sense. Someone in the household would have already warned someone at the Royal residence that the house would be in chaos at the moment and would have trouble receiving Rod. I know this sounds a little complicated, but it would have been rude of us not to warn his staff, because failing to do so would put Rod at risk of troubling our staff.
Rich people problems.
I thanked Basil and went to take a seat in the pavilion… only for Genette to grow pale and ask me in a panic to wait for her to clean the seats. That happened in a flurry of maids and activity, and then one of the footmen walked the guest out the back door to where I was at last seated.
Tiana’s heart skipped a beat at that moment, as I saw who it was.
Sir Belgar had been a shiny, brand new, dashing young knight in the palace guard when she was five, and by the time she approached her teenage years, he had, quite frankly, become her first crush. By the cardiac evidence of the moment, I knew she never entirely outgrew that.
The fact that it affected me too did a little damage to my soul. I pushed it aside for the time being.
I had not been aware that Belgar now headed up security for the Royal Academy. He had still been at the Palace when Tiana departed with the Hero’s Party. It must have been a pretty recent posting.
There’s a specific formula that must be followed for a woman to receive a male caller. I rose and greeted him, resumed my seat, asked him to join me, then waited for him to seat himself (if a footman was present they would seat him, but a gentleman does not make any lady, even a maid, do such a thing) and for Genette to pour tea, before I at last asked, “What may I do for you, Sir Belgar?”
He swallowed his obligatory sip of tea and flashed me his gentle smile. “It’s about the entrance ceremony this evening, My Lady. It would have been rude to simply send a summons to you, so I came in person. I’m here to alert you that we need you to arrive an hour before Evening.”
In Ostish, when you use the words as if they are specific times, ‘Morning’ and ‘Evening’ mean the half-way points between Noon and Midnight. Orestanians don’t number the hours, so what he said was just how you say ‘five o’clock pm’ on Huade.
There’s also the informal terms ‘Mid-Morning’, ‘Mid-Afternoon’ and ‘Mid-Evening’, that mean nine a.m., three p.m. and nine p.m. Nope, there’s no special name for three a.m.
The lower school ceremony was in the morning, and the advanced school ceremony was in the early afternoon. So the upper school got the evening slot. But the instructions from the school had been to be present a half-hour before Evening, so I tipped my head.
“For what reason?”
“As you will be in uniform as a royal knight, you must stand with the royal knights during the ceremony. We have to do some additional practice, forming up for the knights’ pledge.”
I nodded. “I understand. Certainly, I will be there.”
“His Highness intends to pick you up; I have already let him know what time you must arrive.”
Suppressing a sigh, I nodded. This house was barely a five minute walk from the school.
“I trust you were informed that it was school formal attire?”
“‘School formal’ attire?” I asked, canting my head. “We will simply be in our uniforms, will we not?”
“Ah… My Lady, the Royal Academy’s school attire includes a more elegant outfit for formal events and balls. In order to match it, we knights must dress to a higher standard as well. The school prefers that the royal knights appear in our court uniform for formal events.”
I think some of the color drained out of my face. For me, court uniform meant that court uniform.
“I… um, wonder if I packed it…” I answered. I may have been mumbling a bit.
“Her Grace made sure we brought all your uniforms along, Young Mistress,” Genette chirped. It sounded like she was delighted.
Somehow, I again suppressed the sigh that was fighting like mad to escape me.
# # #
The Royal Academy’s clock tower chimes the hours. On each hour it tolls four times, with the quarters of the hour sounding as one, two or three bells, then on the quarters of the day (morning, noon, evening and midnight), the four bells lead into a tune. Unexpectedly, even though Huade has a habit of pulling out random Japanese tropes, it isn’t the ‘Big Ben’ bell tune that is usually heard as school bells in anime.
So, as the clock tower was tolling three bells, indicating fifteen minutes before the hour before Evening, Genette, Rella, Esrene and Ferna had just finished the final touches on my gown and hair and were now busily putting the livery of the two younger maids in order, since they, too, would be attending the school.
Rella was one of the senior staffers from Mother’s estate, but Esrene and Ferna were both still learning their jobs. When Mother learned that Genette was in charge of choosing the other two attendants for school, she immediately insisted on these two. Apparently, Genette had been happy to be relieved of that duty, although I was a little annoyed. I genuinely wanted whoever Genette chose.
Between the two, you would expect Ferna to be the green-haired one, right? Nope, it’s Esrene. Ferna’s hair is plum.
They are both Pendorians like Genette and most of the staff, but in their case, they are also Mother’s relatives. She located both of them through magic. Her divinations had determined that Esrene is descended from Mother’s father and Ferna from her brother. Ferna is her grandniece to some number of generations and Esrene’s mother is Mother’s half-sister. We’re keeping that information from her though, because the man that Esrene believes to be her grandfather is still alive, as is the woman whom my grandfather played around with, Esrene’s grandmother. There is no point in destroying a marriage so late in life, so Esrene doesn’t know she’s my cousin.
Once Mother learned that ducal and marquisate daughters normally stayed in their own mansions rather than the dorms, she changed the plans for my attendants. Now, Genette could stay home while three young people attended school by my side. The third was a newly-dubbed house knight.
Pendor doesn’t need knights to defend its ducal family, for obvious reasons, but we still need them to serve the populace, so we do have house knights. My new household staff included two: Balwin, a sturdy man of around forty, and Cord, a quiet, athletic boy my age. Balwin’s job was to guard the house when I wasn’t home. Cord would be joining Esrene, Ferna and I at school.
I suppose it looks crazy that one student requires three servants while at school. That’s because it is.
But apparently it’s expected of a ducal daughter. Dukes have a lofty status in Orestania. In fact, they are considered to be peers of the king because their provinces are former medium-sized kingdoms. Fortunately, Dukes and therefore ducal daughters are not common. I’m only one of two currently enrolled in the Academy, and the other is in the Advanced section (in other words, college). So my classes weren’t going to be stuffed full of domestic servants. Most of the students would have none, and most who did have attendants would have only one.
After enjoying watching someone else put up with being treated like a helpless child for a change– Genette was determined that her juniors look absolutely perfect– we went downstairs to meet up with Cord on the entry portico and await the return of the Royal Carriage. I was a little surprised that it hadn’t arrived already at that point.
Its absence became astonishing by the time I began hearing the clock tower tolling the hour. Genette and I looked at each other, both of us thinking, what do we do now?
Decisiveness is important, whether you are a knight or a duke’s daughter. I pressed my lips together, then nodded curtly.
“Right. Cord, I apologize, but it seems you must escort Esrene and Ferna on foot. I will be going ahead.”
Genette asked, “Young Mistress?”
“I mustn’t be late, Genette. Cord, were you expected to show up on the hour?”
“House Knights report on the first quarter hour, Young Mistress,” he replied.
I nodded again, then used an innate magic I rarely use.
I know that Command and Charm already have a creepy, villainous vibe, but there is another innate vampire skill that I truly detest using, because while vampires need Command and Charm in other situations, they evolved this skill strictly for hunting prey. By which I mean, hunting mortals. It is nothing a civilized vampire requires.
There are other camouflage and stealth techniques, but Vampire Cloak is the one that inspired the false belief that vampires can turn themselves into mist, or scatter as a flock of bats. Without magic, even a mentally strong viewer can’t fight past the illusion to see that the vampire is actually still right in front of them.
Like I said, it’s creepy. But I didn’t want to be seen flying down the boulevard between my house and school in daylight, so I Cloaked as I stepped off the portico at the top of the stairs and spread my wings.
On my first visit to the school, when Amelia’s attendant walked me to her house to dress me for Clara’s tea party, she had given me a quick guided tour of at least those buildings that we walked past. Not their interior, of course, just a quick explanation as we passed them. ‘This is the second lecture hall building, that’s the combat magic practicals field, the infirmary is there in the medical arts school building…’
So I knew the location of the ‘Great Event Hall’, where the Entrance Ceremony would take place. I landed in front of it and dematerialized my wings before removing the Vampire Cloak.
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