Excerpt Two from Teller of Destiny, Book Two: Princes and Fools
…Finally, Raphere met the Princes of Paz Etur. Here the family resemblance continued through Prince Lunule Faten Lau, the oldest son. He resembled a young Rant Pae.
Prince Lunule bestowed a curt nod. His cool hazel eyes lifted upward and away; he impatiently dismissed her as if she were some nuisance for which he had no time. His gaze rested upon his father, and a subtle scowl settled over his features. Raphere wondered if the tendency to brood ran thick within the veins of all Faxwood men.
The younger prince, however, smiled broadly. Recognizing him, Raphere winced. The very same boy who had fallen from her balcony stood proudly at the table!
“This is Prince Papen Esten Lau Faxwood,” Tranquia introduced.
“We’ve already met!” He winked a blue eye at her. She could only stare back.
“Oh, really?” exclaimed Queen Elesa.
“In passing, after her lesson,” Papen lied, his mischievous grin growing ever more amused.
If he hadn’t called her a lumpy girl earlier, she might have thanked him for avoiding an uncomfortable explanation. Fortunately, the conversation quieted and they began to eat.
Raphere stared at her plate. The food consisted of spinach salad with a creamy cold sauce; halibut soup with half mushrooms and carrots; and delicate, small rolls of bread topped with liver paste. Raphere had never seen such elegant food, which she openly admitted to them.
“This is just the first course, Raphere,” Papen teased.
“Counselor Tranquia tells me you hail from Heathers Point,” the King prompted the conversation.
“Yes, King. Near Heathers Point and Ables Way.”
“‘A long journey,” he mused.
“Yes. A long and dangerous one, through Sunder Veil.”
“Indeed!” Queen Elesa quickly hit her stepson’s hand away from his father’s plate. “Papen, mind yourself,” she scolded, then shifted her attention back to Raphere. “You traveled on foot, by yourself?”
“Barefoot, I’d imagine.” Prince Lunule’s tone was deceptively casual. He continued to speak, though he didn’t deign to look at her again. “Tell me, is it true you entered our palace on your naked feet?”
Raphere inwardly bristled. “Yes, Prince Lunule. The swamp ruined my shoes.”
He snorted. “I heard the servants had quite a time cleaning the rugs afterward.”
“I’m certain they did,” she responded sweetly, her lips twisting despite the barb. It was a funny joke, she conceded though she suspected he didn’t intend a kind jest.
Belatedly, Cymela laughed out loud and her copper curls bobbed about her head. Queen Tera gave her daughter a stern look. Hunching her shoulders, Cymela lowered her head over her plate as servants brought the second course. Plate after plate of fish lined the long table.
“Have you ever eaten salmon before, Raphere?” Papen asked.
She shook her head. “Never, Prince Papen. We have few lakes or large rivers nearby, you know.”
From the corner of her vision, she saw the princess straighten. Cymela’s dull gaze sparked to life before her eyes narrowed.
Raphere bit her lip. She had been talking about the Pikestan! Frantically, her mind reviewed their journey. She had seen no signs of lakes or rivers until they were upon the swamps. However, she never traveled north of Heathers Point. Cymela continued to study her, but it appeared no one else had found her remark odd.
“Salmon come from the sea into the River Gonne. The long voyage is worth the journey. Try some. They are delicious.” Papen encouraged.
The fish melted on Raphere’s tongue. Unfortunately, the young princess’s scrutiny and the older prince’s quips had stolen Raphere’s appetite. She took a few, quick tastes just to please Prince Papen. He grinned and nodded, hopefully satisfied she liked the stuff.
“So you went all the way without a horse?” Queen Elesa asked. “It seems impossible, and all by yourself. Weren’t you frightened?”
“Yes and no, Queen Elesa,” Raphere explained. “Yes, I was frightened and no, we didn’t go all the way on foot. We travelled most of the way on horseback. I had friends with me, but I lost them—and my shoes—in the Veil.” She gave Prince Lunule a pointed stare. His knife paused midway to his mouth.
“Ah, yes, my nephew was in your group.” The king’s voice was gentle, perhaps for the benefit of the Orian queen, but the corners of his mouth revealed a hint of displeasure. “Otti said he found your friend Jake bearing Papin Rantir’s emblem—quite a surprise to hear of his close proximity after all these years. I believe Rantir is fond of you, my dear.”
“My brother,” Princess Cymela interjected, “has a thing for strays.”
“As does his father,” Papen added.
At his words, Cymela fixed Papen a nasty glare.
The silence that followed grew long and awkward. Finally, the princess lifted her chin. Her dissecting gaze stabbed into Raphere as if to fix her in place—and quarter her.
She’s going to call me out. Inwardly, Raphere panicked as a predatory smile sliced Cymela’s hollow cheeks.
The princess leaned forward. “Let’s ask the stray—”
“I’m afraid my son,” Queen Tera smoothly interrupted, “would rather be an adventurer than a king.” Her countenance held nothing but tenderness as she spoke of Rant. “I am glad you met him. Please, tell me how he is. It has been so long since I saw him. I worry often about him.”
“Oh, he is fine! I am sure of it, Queen Tera.” Raphere leaned forward eagerly. “He was my protector.”
“Not a very good one.”
At Prince Lunule’s comment, a shadow passed over the Orian queen’s features. Raphere’s dislike for the prince grew.
“It’s my understanding he’s returned to Heathers Point. A pressing matter…”
“Thank you, dear child.” Queen Tera smiled even more warmly.
Prince Lunule cleared his throat. “How nice.” He turned to the King. “So tell me, Father, is this a special occasion, or will it become a common occurrence to have peasants sup with us?”
His question brought gasps from the Queens and a titter from Princess Cymela.
The King glared at his son. “Perhaps I would like to have peasants replace my court. They are more gracious and polite and have better manners than my own sons.”
Prince Papen sat up straight. “What did I do?”
“It’s all right, your Majesty. I am not offended,” Raphere said.
Prince Lunule finally acknowledged her with his full attention, but the look he cast her twisted her insides into a tight knot. “It is not your place to say what does or doesn’t offend you. And I hardly need a swamp girl apologizing for my behavior.”
His withering stare ate at her composure. Raphere’s hands began to shake. She kept them in her lap, away from sight.
“So, Lady Raphere,” he spoke the title lightly. “Are you, as my father has said, honored and grateful to be eating with royalty?”
“Of course, Prince. You’ve been indulgent, accepting my presence. I am amazed at how easily you’ve humbled yourself to talk with me, if only to remind all of my common birth.”
Lunule smiled smugly at Tranquia. “An ant.”
Raphere didn’t understand his meaning, but the wanderer visibly bristled.
“However,” Raphere continued, “I have eaten with princes before…” Her voice quavered. She lost her nerve to finish.
“Oh, have you?” Prince Lunule snorted. “And a little roll in the hay, too?”
Queen Elesa coughed upon her food. Tranquia spoke his name like a warning.
Anger flared in Raphere’s veins. Her blood boiled, but she tried to appear calm, as any white wanderer would act. “Are you questioning my virtue?”
“Virtue?” He laughed. “I didn’t know a peasant girl was allowed such a thing.”
“Perhaps because you know very little,” she whispered, then heard Princess Cymela’s sharp intake of breath.
But Prince Lunule seized the challenge. His eyes began to sparkle from her reaction.
Tranquia shook her head slightly at Raphere, warning her not to let this progress any further, but pride begged Raphere to proceed.
“If I may?”
“Go on, go on.” The King waved an approving hand.
She cleared her throat and focused unwaveringly on King Esten’s eldest. “I have met another prince in my lifetime, who acted as a common man, but one of great dignity, humility and kindness.”
Prince Lunule sucked his teeth as his eyes slinked away from hers.
“Yet, at this table, I see before me another prince who shames his father, the King, and his father’s guests. Indeed, I may be unworthy to dine at this fine table, but such a foolish prince should switch places with the jester below.” She pointed emphatically to the King of Fools who lounged upon the steps near the table.
As if called, the fool hopped up and began to strut about on his short legs, nose in the air, hand grasping and rubbing his codpiece, making a wonderful mimicry of the eldest prince.
The king’s shoulders shook as he watched the jester’s display. The fool suddenly leapt onto the table. Cymela shrieked.
He ran down the middle, kicking plates and tipping wine glasses over while he jabbed his finger at the nobles.
“Unworthy, unworthy! You too, unworthy!”
After he passed Tranquia, he jumped into the king’s lap.
“Father!” The fool opened his arms for a hug.
The King rose to his feet and cried, “Unworthy!”
The fool tumbled to the floor. The nobles on the dining hall’s upper level burst into laughter and applause.
“Well done, young maiden!” King Esten’s laughter boomed against the walls as several nearby guests lifted their glasses, their faces bright and red with mirth.
The jester left the King but tarried by Prince Lunule’s chair. With hands on hips and foot tapping, he waited to take the prince’s seat. Snickers flowed down various tables on the lower levels and more lords maneuvered their chairs to watch.
The prince glared at the jester until he fled. The light applause faded. “For a girl of the swamp, she has the tongue of a witch.” Prince Lunule turned toward Raphere. “And by your words spoken within my home, you’ve proven your ignorance concerning princes and honor.”
What did he mean by that? she wondered, stung and bewildered at the same time.
“But what she says is true, Lunule,” Prince Papen howled with glee.
The catastrophe left behind by the jester’s fast heels vanished as a flurry of servants cleared the table, preparing it for the next course. Queen Tera consoled her daughter who seemed near faint with upset. Raphere noted Tranquia’s steady regard. Her teacher was not amused either.
“Go back to your pastoral parents,” Lunule mumbled under his breath. Suddenly, his face lit up and he eyed her once more, his regard more malicious than before. “Tell me, Lady Raphere, do you have parents?”
Unprepared, Raphere winced, and his expression subtly changed to triumph. He had caught her. He knew it. Worse, she couldn’t lie. Raphere swallowed hard, sensing the defeat her words would seal. “I have a mother.”
Prince Lunule dropped his knife loudly upon his plate. He thrust his hand out toward King Esten. “My dear king and father,” his voice rose above the tables, “I do believe you have invited a bastard to dine with us.”
“That is enough!” Tranquia shouted. Cymela burst into tears.
His last arrow had found its mark, its sting, unexpectedly sharp. His intent all evening had been to shame Raphere, and he had ultimately succeeded.
Despite Raphere’s best effort to control it, her chin visibly trembled. True animosity quickly replaced her shame. She glared, but then noted the plate of steak being set down before him. Her lips twisted into a wicked smile as a terrible urge came over her.
“Make it green,” she whispered.
Prince Lunule stuck his knife into the most putrid steak imaginable. He cursed out loud in horror. Raphere quickly dispersed the illusion, but not before Prince Papen had seen the transformation.
“Great Fate! How on earth did you do that?” His expression became excited. “Please change something else, a saucer or a cup or—or Cymela’s hair!”
Through her tears, Princess Cymela whimpered in protest.
“Please, Raphere!” Prince Papen begged.
Raphere jumped to her feet, her chair clattering loudly to the floor. “I am not a performing monkey or—or jester to do tricks for your amusement!”
She suddenly realized she was shouting at the king’s table—at his very son! Her breath closed in her throat.
As her voice echoed above the shock-stricken court, Raphere knew Tranquia had been right. They may forget this night someday, but she would never forget—not even in a hundred lifetimes.
She fled the banquet hall.