Those very eyes brightened as she smirked. “I think a lady of your importance should simply have a letter sent.”
We laughed as we left the room, not caring if anyone looked or made comments. I still wasn’t completely convinced of Jameson’s intentions, and I knew that the people at court weren’t thrilled by my presence, but none of that mattered right now. Tonight, I would dine beside a king. And that was something to celebrate.
Delia Grace and I sat in my room, completing the reading time she insisted we have daily. She had a variety of interests: history, mythology, and the great philosophers of the day. I preferred novels. Usually, I’d be transported to places dreamed up in the pages of a book, but today, my ears were on edge. I was listening, glancing over at the door every few minutes, waiting for them to storm in.
At the one moment I finally stumbled upon an interesting section, the doors flew open.
“Is this a joke?” my father asked, his tone not angered but shockingly hopeful.
I shook my head. “No, sir. The king extended the invitation just this morning. You seemed so busy, I thought a letter would be more appropriate.”
I shot a conspiratorial look at Delia Grace, who pretended to still be immersed in her book.
My mother swallowed, her body never fully settling in one spot as she spoke. “We are all to sit with the king tonight?”
I nodded. “Indeed, madam. You, Father, and myself. I’ll need Delia Grace with me, so I thought her mother might join us as well.”
At that, Mother’s excited fidgeting stopped. My father closed his eyes, and I recognized the action from many a time when he wanted to think over his words before he spoke them.
“Certainly you would prefer to be solely in the company of your family for such a momentous occasion.”
I smiled. “There is room for all of us and more at the king’s table. I hardly think it will matter.”
My mother looked down her nose at me. “Delia Grace, would you please leave us to speak with our daughter?”
We shared a tired look, and Delia Grace closed her book, setting it on the table before she left.
She moved quickly, coming to tower over me where I sat. “This is not a game, Hollis. That girl is tainted, and she shouldn’t be in your company. At first it seemed sweet, like charity. But now . . . you have to sever ties.”
My mouth fell open. “I most certainly will not! She has been my closest friend at court.”
“She’s a bastard!” my mother hissed.
I swallowed. “That is a rumor. Her mother has sworn she was faithful. Lord Domnall only threw that accusation at Delia Grace’s mother—eight years after the fact, mind you—so he could arrange a divorce.”
“Either way, a divorce is enough of a reason to stay away from her!” Mother argued.
“It’s not her fault!”
“Too right you are, dear,” Father added, ignoring me. “If her mother’s blood isn’t bad enough, her father’s is. Divorced.” He shook his head. “And to have eloped at all, let alone so quickly after.”
I sighed. Coroa was a land of laws. Many of them centered around family and marriage. Being unfaithful to your spouse meant you were, at best, an outcast. At worst, there would be a trip to the tower. Divorce was something so rare, I’d never actually seen it happen with my own eyes. But Delia Grace had.
Her father claimed that his wife, the former Lady Clara Domnall, had an affair that resulted in the birth of their only child, Delia Grace. On those grounds, he demanded and was granted a divorce. But within three months he’d run off with another lady, handing off the titles Delia Grace was set to inherit to this woman and any offspring they might produce. Of course, what were titles with such a reputation? Eloping meant an awareness of widespread disapproval and was seen as a last resort, with some couples choosing to separate rather than take such desperate action.
Still a lady in her own right, Lady Clara reclaimed her maiden name, and brought her daughter to court so that she might be able to grow up with the influence of the gentry. What she got instead was endless torment.
I’d always found the whole story questionable. If Lord Domnall had suspected his wife had been unfaithful and that Delia Grace wasn’t his, why did he wait eight years to bring it up? There had never been any proof to back up the claims, but he was granted his divorce all the same. Delia Grace said he must have fallen hard for the woman he eloped with. I tried to tell her it was nonsense, but she shook her head at me.
“No. He must have loved her more than my mother and me combined. Why would you leave for something you cared for less?” The look in her eyes was so resolute that I couldn’t argue with her, and I never brought up the topic again.
I didn’t need to. Half the palace did on our behalf. And if they weren’t judging her to her face, they were at least thinking it. My parents were proof enough of that.
“You are being too hasty,” I insisted. “It was very generous of the king to invite us to dinner, but it doesn’t mean anything more will come of it. And even if it does, after all this time, doesn’t Delia Grace—who has always been a model of perfection at court—deserve to stay at my side?”
My father huffed. “People have already passed judgment about your escapades on the river. Do you want to give them more ammunition?”
I thrust my hands into my lap, thinking it was pointless to argue with my parents. When had I ever won? The closest I ever came was when Delia Grace was beside me.
That was it!
I sighed, looking up at my parents, their faces still determined.
“I understand your concerns, but perhaps our wishes aren’t the only ones to be considered here,” I offered.
“I owe nothing to that scandal of a girl,” Mother spat.
“No. I mean the king.”
At that they silenced themselves. Finally, my father ventured to speak.
“I only mean that His Majesty has become quite enamored of me, and part of what makes my days so easy is Delia Grace’s companionship. Furthermore, Jameson is much more compassionate than his father and might understand taking her under my wing. With your permission, I’d like to pose the question to him.”
I’d chosen my words carefully, measured my tone. There was no way they could call me sulky or whiny, and there was no way they could pretend to have a higher authority than a king.
“Very well,” Father said. “Why not ask him tonight? But she is not invited to sit with us. Not this time.”
I nodded. “I’ll write her now so she understands. Do excuse me.” I kept my serene air about me as I fetched some parchment from my desk, and they left, looking puzzled.
When the door closed, I giggled to myself.
I’m very sorry, but my parents have made a stand about the dinner tonight. Don’t fret! I have a plan to keep you by my side always. Come and find me later tonight, and I will explain everything. Have courage, dear friend!
There were still judgmental glances being cast at me as I made my way to dinner, and I realized I didn’t much care for it. How had Delia Grace survived this kind of scrutiny? And from such a young age?
As it was, my parents didn’t care about the glares, but instead walked in as if they were showing off a purebred mare they’d just inherited, and that only garnered more attention.