This week, an excerpt from the princess novel – a lighter-hearted interlude toward the beginning of Act II.
Kelisin frowned, moving her rook forward two squares to take Tavaril’s bishop. “You’re a terrible chess player.”
She had found the set in a drawer in her borrowed bedroom. It was plain, though made of fine materials. Since then Kel had taken every opportunity to play with Tavaril or Teoden; when neither was available she played herself.
“I have other talents,” said Tavaril. “Yours, apparently, is being humble.”
“Oh, most certainly. I’m much greater than I think I am.”
Tav’s delighted laugh bubbled forth, and Kel felt her mouth creeping up into a smile. It was hard to be anything but happy around Tavaril, who – despite growing up in the Valloran court, immersed in its ridiculous mind games – regarded everything with equanimous pleasure.
“It’s good to see you smile like that — Oh, now I’ve done it.” Kelisin felt the small smile slip from her face. Tavaril leaned forward, catching hold of Kelisin’s arm. “It’s all right to be happy.”
Kel shook her head. “I know. It’s just…never mind. Let’s keep going.” She lifted an eyebrow. “You’re afraid to lose again.”
“Again? Excuse me, but we weren’t all raised from birth to fight complex intellectual battles with pieces of marble.” Tavaril tossed her head. The beads at the ends of her braids clicked together. The sound drew attention – when she tried that gesture in front of the young men of the court, it never failed to turn heads.
“I’m not some young lad you can distract with a hair flip and a pretty pout,” Kelisin warned. She waved her hand over the board. “Make your move.”
The young woman worried at her bottom lip, stretching her hand out toward a pawn. “We need to find you another hobby — something non-competitive. Sketching. Embroidery. Crochet.”
“I can make anything competitive.”
Tavaril cast her eyes toward the ceiling, affecting a long-suffering expression. “Gods help me, I believe you.”
Kel promptly removed one of the cushions from behind her back and tossed it at Tavaril’s head.
The girl let out a startled squawk as the impromptu missile struck. She batted it down to the floor, staring in disbelief. “You just threw a pillow at my head.” She looked up at Kel. “Why, you little minx!” Tavaril lunged across the table, scattering the chess pieces to the floor.
Kel leapt up but she wasn’t fast enough to escape; Tavaril locked an arm around her waist and proceeded to tickle her. “Take that! I’ll teach you to assault me, you scoundrel! A well deserved punishment!”
Kel’s knees went weak and she collapsed to the floor, giggling helplessly. She dragged Tavaril down with her. “Stop — stop — I yield!”
Tavaril stopped abruptly. “What’s that? I’m afraid I didn’t hear you.”
“Don’t gloat, it’s unbecoming.”
“Oho! Coming from the girl who —”
Someone knocked on the door.
Kel scrambled to her feet, suddenly businesslike. She reached down to help Tavaril up, then busied herself straightening her clothing.
“Here,” said Tavaril, “let me fix your hair.” She collected a few scattered hairpins from the floor and stuck them in. Kelisin’s wilted updo was suddenly pulled taut against her head.
The knock sounded again, more insistent.
“Coming!” Kel called. She pulled away from Tavaril’s grasp, tucking the last loose locks of hair behind her ears. “Close enough,” she said. “Hopefully it isn’t anyone important. Wait here, will you?”
She passed through the receiving room and opened the door to her suite – a servant would have done it for her, if she hadn’t sent them all away – to reveal a palace messenger. The boy’s gaze traveled pointedly up to her disheveled hair, but his expression barely twitched.
“Yes?” said Kel.
The boy bowed. “A message, my lady. From Her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Hunter’s Green.”
Kel took the sealed envelope he offered. “Does her Grace expect a reply?”
“Yes, my lady.”
Kel swiftly ran her finger under the wax seal, stamped with a leaping stag, and pulled out the parchment card. She read it once, then twice, then fumbled the card back into the envelope with trembling fingers. She stepped back. “Please convey my regards to the Duchess, and tell her that I will be attending.”
The messenger bowed obediently, pivoted smartly on his heel, and strode away. Kel returned, her gaze once more drawn to the note in her hands. As she reentered the sitting room, Tavaril cleared her throat. “Well? Who was it?”
“Messenger with an invitation.” Kell looked up, with a stricken expression. “To dinner. With Teoden’s mother.”
“Dinner with your intended’s mother?” Tavaril solemnly kissed her on the cheek. “It was nice knowing you.”