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Chapter Three: The Feast
The ride home was quiet, and my brother’s previous cheerfulness sank into a serious silence. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, frowning. He was worried about something… if only there was someway I could help!
With a sigh, I carefully steered my horse, Duke, around a fallen tree, and tried to enjoy the gentle rocking of his walk. I ran my hand through Duke’s thick, black mane and breathed in the fresh country air as we rode out of the village surrounding the castle.
My brother woke from his deep thinking to comment briefly on the day, and then again lapsed into silence. I didn’t annoy him with useless comments, for there was a mutual understanding between us as to when to speak and when to keep silent.
My thoughts returned to the feast, and I pondered what preparations I would make. This kept me occupied until we arrived at our cottage. I unsaddled Duke and led him to our barn. Filling his manger with hay, and a bucket with some water, I rubbed him down before going back to the house and beginning my preparations for our dinner.
Once we finished eating, Malcolm disappeared outside. It was what usually happened when something was on his mind: for some reason he could think better while caring for our animals (which always needed care in some way or another). Sometimes I wouldn’t see him again until the next day. Today that would not happen, because the feast was tonight and my brother made it a point never to go back on his word, but it sometimes did.
The afternoon went pleasantly enough, although Malcolm wasn’t there. I spent my time quietly mending some of my brother’s shirts and jerkins. My brother was gone, but I had lots to do.
Time passed, and a few hours slipped by before I heard the familiar sound of Malcolm stomping the dirt from his boots outside our door.
I rose from my chair and put away the mended clothing. A splash of water told me my brother was washing up, so I smoothed my gown, fixed my hair, and washed my own face. My hand went to my special box, filled with my few valuables, many of them given to me by my mother before her death. I gently, even reverently, took from it my mother’s locket and golden ring. Putting them on, I admired myself in the mirror.
“They look nice with the dress.”
I spun around, but smiled when I noticed my brother, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. “They do add more elegance to it,” I agreed. Malcolm nodded. I spun around in a circle, watching the dress twirl.
My brother grinned at my antics. “Make sure you’re ready in an hour,” he said.
I looked at him, still in his grimy farm clothes. “You had better make sure you’re ready in an hour.”
He laughed. “Very true! I shall go get ready now!” With that he left, and I finished my preparations in peace.
An hour later, after one last smoothing of my dress, and one last touch to my bun, I was ready. A call from my brother outside caught my attention, so I quickly threw my cloak over my shoulders and walked outside.
Malcolm was standing with the horses already saddled. I looked him over admiringly. He was wearing a black doublet over his chain mail, and our country’s silver coat of arms decorating it. A dark green cloak was thrown over his shoulders and was held at his throat by a sliver clasp. Even his hair, usually in a semi state of chaos, looked neat and tidy for once. He swung up onto his horse, grinning down at me.
I smiled. “You look nice,” I stated.
My brother laughed. “Of course I do! Don’t I always?”
I raised an eyebrow in mock distain. “You vain thing!”
He tilted his head with his eyes still twinkling. “You look nice too.”
I smiled. “Thank you,” I answered simply, and then swung up onto Duke.
We rode to the castle.
* * * * *
Upon arriving, our horses were again taken by a stable boy as had happened this morning. We walked into the castle, being escorted by a guard to the banquet hall. King Fredrick welcomed us, motioning for my brother to sit next to him on one side. Crystal was on the other side, and she eagerly beckoned me to sit next to her. Welcoming me with a warm smile, she began pointing out a few important nobles and their wives to me by name.
The first speeches were made before the meal began. Malcolm was asked to stand for his speech, and I leaned forward eagerly in my chair to catch all his words.
“My fellow subjects,” he began, “I was honored to be asked by our dear King Fredrick to give a speech to you all. However, I know that I am terribly hungry, as are you all I am sure, so I promise to keep it short.” There was scattered laughter, and I smiled. My brother continued, “I hope that you all will enjoy the food and entertainment provided by our generous king. I would like to say that it has been a great honor, and a great joy to have known the king personally for three years now, and his daughter, Crystal, for whom this feast is for, as well. I wish to congratulate Crystal on reaching her eighteenth birthday and King Fredrick on having put up with her for that long!” Again, there was laughter, and even Crystal and King Fredrick had a difficult time keeping a straight face. Malcolm grinned. “As promised, I shall keep this speech short by stopping here, after a toast to the princess!” All rose from their seats and my brother held his glass in the air. “A toast to Princess Crystal: May she live happily for many, many more years!”
He sat down amidst applause, and the meal began. I was eating when I felt a prickly feeling on the back of my neck: someone was looking at me. I frowned, putting my knife on my platter. I looked slowly around the room, searching for the someone who had been looking at me.
Our eyes met, across the room, and I saw at a glance that the someone was a young noble, and a handsome one. I looked away quickly, a blush beginning to spread over my face. A few minutes later I risked another glance: he was still looking at me! He caught my eyes and smiled. I glowered back, not liking his attention and wanting him to know it. Returning to my meal, I tried to ignore the feeling that I was being stared at.
The feast ended at last, but I never had a chance to ask Crystal who the young-noble-who-stared-at-me was because she was busy in conversation with my brother until we left. Our horses had been saddled already, so we merely swung onto our horses and rode off into the night.
I arrived home exhausted, but I continued to think about the mysterious young-noble-who-stared-at-me. Even when I was in my warm bed and drifting off to sleep, I asked myself questions about him. Who was he? What was he doing at the feast? Why did he stare at me? My thoughts faded as sleep overcame me.