Disillusioned First Draft, Chapter 7 Excerpt
It was a pleasant surprise, the queen observed while helping herself to a generous second serving of liver spread on toast, that the intimacy large gatherings had previously afforded her ceased to expire upon her crowning. This, however, excluded her mother, whose unabashed gaze prickled her left cheek. Lilac bit largely into the piece of bread and chewed slowly, savouring the notes of garlic and cognac, and withheld a grin as Marguerite exhaled sharply through her nose.
“You should be dancing,” Marguerite suggested lightly, placing her fork down with a force that implied this suggestion was not a suggestion at all. “A young queen must socialise.”
“A young queen regnant should be allowed to enjoy her first celebratory meal among the courts, both foreign and local, without dallying over courtship.”
After a moment, Lilac felt her mother’s squared shoulders slump slightly, either in agreement or dejection.
”You’ve been in my position before,” Lilac added quietly. A lively couple off to their right tripped over themselves as the next galliard unfolded before them.
“Mind your etiquette, dear,” Marguerite said, more gently this time. “And no, I haven’t.”
Her mother pursed her lips to indicate she would not discuss the matter further. She didn’t need to elaborate for Lilac to understand. Marguerite was a consort, while her daughter was born into the monarchy. Despite their matched tempers and similar titles, Lilac’s power and her mother’s former role in the kingdom were different as night and day.
Before she could shift in her seat to respond—the royal dining chairs must’ve weighed a half tonne—a tap upon Lilac’s shoulder pulled her attention in the opposite direction. An oversized lace bonnet outlined her father’s pestered grimace; her great aunt placed a pair of weathered hands on the table and craned her neck to peek from behind her great nephew’s hulking frame.
“These king’s tables are the least convenient for the sake of conversation,” she drawled past Henri, winking at Lilac. “Regardless, I am most curious about the lad seated toward the closest end of the table to our right.”
Lilac didn’t need to look over to know to whom her aunt was referring, but she stole a glance anyway; Garin sat, shoulders hunched and elbows perched on either side of his plate, sandwiched between Madame Therese and the convent. In the midst of a conversation with the lively monk seated opposite the nuns, he returned to his plate to skewer the next bit of quail with his fork before peering up at her from under his dark lashes.
Thankful for her powder and wig concealing the tomato colour her cheeks and ears had certainly now adopted, Lilac nodded. “Yes, Aunt Gwynabeth. That would be Father Budoc. He’s a temporary substitute for Guillaume.”
“A new priest?” Her grey eyebrows hovered, then knitted together as she pivoted back toward Lilac. “He keeps glancing this way, as if a guest at any moment might poison the cheese wheel.”
“He is rather protective,” Henri offered between them and from over his tankard rim.
Her aunt gave a twinkle of a laugh. “Why, you aren’t even at war.”
“Careful now,” Garin remarked suddenly from over Gwynabyth’s shoulder—the bated breath Lilac had held at her father and aunt’s discussing over the poorly disguised vampire as routinely as court politics expelled in a sputtering cough.
“There are various kingdoms and countries present tonight, and we’d be fools to assume every one of them is at our mercy or disposal merely because they’ve accepted this gracious invitation.” He beamed at Henri and a wide-eyed Gwynabyth, who immediately extended her arm.
“You never know,” Garin said before pressing his lips briefly to her aunt’s hand, “just whom, or what, might lurk right beneath Her Majesty’s nose.”