“I’m so excited for the tournament.” Nora came and nudged me to move over on the bed. I obliged, and she pulled my hair over my back and started brushing.
“Me, too.” I curled my legs up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, almost feeling like I needed to hold the feeling in.
“Is Jameson riding today?”
I shook my head. “He’s going to accompany King Quinten for the whole thing, and, seeing as the armor alone would knock Quinten to the ground,” I said with a pointed look, “I think he’ll stay in the stands today. I’m not even sure if I’ll bother wearing a token.”
“Why not? You don’t have to give it away.”
“We’ll see. Either way, I want to wear the red underskirt, but with my signature gold on top.”
She nodded. “That will look nice. We should probably tuck your hair up so it doesn’t get dirty. Come on.” We moved over to the vanity so she could secure my hair back in a golden net, using a wide band of red satin to keep the front of my hair in place.
“No question who I’m pulling for today, is there?”
“Not with that much red.” She smiled.
I squinted up at her. “Where’s Delia Grace?”
“Something was wrong with her dress, and she had to go find thread.”
I raised my eyebrows. “No wonder it’s so calm in here.”
Nora chuckled as I looked through my drawer, fishing out ribbons and handkerchiefs. “Remember to cheer loudly and be careful that your heart doesn’t get stolen by a handsome knight,” I warned her. Though I knew Jameson would be sitting beside me, I flipped a handkerchief over and over in my hand. I supposed Nora was right; I could have one and not give it away. I slid it up the sleeve of my dress as Delia Grace entered the room, already tense.
“Why is the blasted seamstress so far back in the castle? Doesn’t anyone on this side of the palace ever need a needle and thread?” She huffed as she made sure our dresses were sitting properly and our hair was in place.
“I’ll make it my first order of business to allot some rooms in these halls for the dressers,” I promised. “I’m sure more people need that than we could guess.”
She tucked a stray hair at my neck back into the net, nodding intently. “Sometimes, Hollis, I think we’re the only ones who actually know what’s going on here. There, you’re good.”
“Off we go, ladies,” I said, handing a ribbon to Delia Grace before we moved outside. I kept my head high as I walked across the crowded grounds to where Jameson was settling into the king’s box. King Quinten was sitting to his left with his precious queen beside him. I sighed. At least with her sitting on the other side of the box, the chances of us needing to interact were slim.
As I got closer, I saw a young man in armor approaching me.
“Why, Silas Eastoffe, is that you?” I asked, though the answer was plain enough by the sight of his parents and dreadful cousin flanking him.
He pulled off his helmet and gave me a quick bow. “Indeed, it is, my Lady Hollis. I’m trying my hand at the sword fight after all. And look,” Silas continued, turning a full circle. It didn’t take long for me to understand.
I met the eyes of his parents, who wore expressions somewhere between satisfied and wary. “You wear no red, you wear no blue.”
In the distance, his aunt and uncle called out. Lord and Lady Eastoffe waved and started over as I turned to my ladies. “Delia Grace, Nora. You may go to our seats. I’ll be along shortly.” They quickly obeyed and I was left with Silas and Etan, though I wished Etan would take his sour expression and follow his aunt and uncle.
“Are you not worried about offending someone?” I asked Silas quietly.
“On the contrary. I’m proud of my past and my present, so I hope to honor both kings today.”
Every time I learned something new about Silas, I found I admired him even more. “That’s very noble, sir.”
Next to him, Etan rolled his eyes.
“And what of you, Sir Etan?” I asked. “Will you not participate today? Do you not have the stomach for tournaments?”
He looked down upon me as if I were a bug.
“I do not play at wars, my lady. I fight real ones. A lance and a blunted sword don’t frighten me.”
I looked back at Silas. “My cousin has volunteered for the Isolten army many times,” he said proudly. “He fights to keep peace along the border.”
I didn’t like that I was spending time with someone who was fighting against my countrymen, but I couldn’t deny it took bravery to do that.
“Well, then, you have my admiration for your courage, and my compassion for the sacrifices I’m sure you’ve made.”
He sneered at me. “I don’t need either. Not from you.”
I shook my head and gathered my gown. “I’m glad you’ve sheathed your sword today, Sir Etan. If you could do the same with your tongue, you might find your company much more appreciated.”
With another fussy expression, he stormed off, leaving me alone with Silas. Finally.
He smiled with a shrug. “I know. I like that about you. You’re always trying.”
I considered that. Etan had called me an ornament, Delia Grace took every opportunity to remind me I was a poor student, and my parents . . . well, they found endless fault with me. But Silas kept catching things that I didn’t know about myself. He said he liked the way I thought. And he was right, I had plenty of good ideas. And he said that I tried, and he was right about that, too. I had a hard time giving up.
I found myself wishing I had a reason to stay near him just a little bit longer. Instead, I bowed my head to him to take my leave and walked away, looking back as I went. There was some unnameable thing that I felt when I was near Silas, like there was a string connecting us, pulling on me if I wandered too far. I was starting to think that fate had made our paths cross, but, considering how differently our paths had begun, I couldn’t guess at why. Impulsively, I pulled my handkerchief from my sleeve and let it fall to the ground before rushing away.
As soon as I reached the royal box, I dropped into a curtsy before King Jameson. “Majesty.”
“My Lady Hollis, you look radiant today. How am I to focus on the games?”
I smiled, then nodded at King Quinten and Queen Valentina. “Your Majesties. I hope you slept well.”
Queen Valentina blinked at me, seemingly confused by the kindness. “Thank you.”
I took my seat and tried to pay attention as the games began. As usual, Jameson’s least favorite event, spear on foot, was up first. I couldn’t blame him; it was too slow paced even for me, and I was never sure of the scoring. Some of the other events were much more straightforward.
“Ha ha!” King Quinten shouted. “That’s another victory won by my men!”
“You have superb soldiers,” Jameson agreed amicably. “My father always said so. Though I think the tides will turn once the events are on horseback. Coroans all excel with horses. Even my Hollis rides with speed and grace.”
I leaned forward, taking in the praise. “You are too kind. And what of you, Your Majesties? Do you ride?”
“I used to,” Valentina replied with a faint smile before her husband waved a hand to silence her.