By Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73
I went out into the courtyard to find Geoff. But although people were swarming everywhere, I couldn't find him.
As I walked, I watched the faces around me. The older people snapped at each other, at the younger folks, and were generally miserable. I received few greetings. Most just nodded briefly in my direction. I was another distraction, a body to be avoided.
It was a totally different story with the younger people. They chatted and laughed. All of them seemed to think highly of Perry Goodhaven. The girls sighed and gushed about how handsome he was, and the boys talked of his accomplishments, which seemed unending. To them, this was something to distract from everyday boredom. More than once I saw two or three simply stop what they were doing and stand around talking. It was clear they weren't earning any points from their elders.
I was about to look elsewhere for Geoff when I heard a voice behind me.
"Well, if it isn't the girl-hero. Enjoying the view? Perhaps you've come to make yourself useful."
I gritted my teeth and turned to see Perry strolling toward me, a line of breathless girls behind him. "It certainly is something. Actually, I was looking for Geoff. I had some questions for him." I adjusted my sword belt and shifted the bow at my back. I hoped it looked at least a little threatening. The "girl-hero" routine was getting on my nerves.
But if Perry felt threatened he didn't look it. "What kind of questions?" He smirked the same way the senior high kids did when we middle-schoolers were around. "I'm sure I can tell you anything you want to know about the wedding."
"Actually, I wanted to know more about Roger." I made my voice mostly light, but my words were blunt. I wasn't in the mood for games. "I'm still shocked he would abandon his lady on such an important occasion. She'd need his guiding hand now more than ever."
"Well, I'm surprised that he managed to keep his job as long as he did." Perry examined his nails.
I noticed that they were perfect, without a speck of dirt or any evidence that he'd ever handled a sword. "What makes you say that?" Stay cool. Losing your temper won't help Roger.
"The man is a thief and a liar." Perry looked up. When I didn't say anything, he continued. "I had a very valuable dagger stolen from me. It was found in his room."
I moved out of the way of some red-faced men carrying chairs to the tent. "Why on earth would he take it?" I studied Perry's face.
"Why ask me? Obviously he hoped to discredit me somehow, although what he was planning escapes me." Perry looked around, then met my gaze, a trace of a smile at his lips. "We had been talking about the art of knife throwing. He asked if I had much experience with it. Of course I do. He wanted a demonstration, so I offered to show him--with my own dagger, of course. When I went to get it, it was gone." He circled me, and I resisted the urge to turn. "It was a very valuable piece. A gift from the Emperor himself. Well, he gave me a matched set, but I rarely travel with both of them. No man needs two daggers."
I didn't care about his stupid daggers. Why was he telling me this? To make me aware of how important he was? To show me that he was buddies with the Emperor? He sounded like Tyler Tasselwaite from school, constantly bragging about how many of the high school football players hung out at his house every weekend.
"I'm surprised that you travel with such valuable gifts." He stopped and I lifted my chin. "Weren't you ambushed by thieves on the High Road? I mean, that's what I've heard. They attacked you, scared off your horse, and you walked to Mallory Manor."
He ran his tongue over his lips. "You heard wrong. Yes, I was attacked, but I scared them. No doubt they saw my skill with a sword and fled. My horse, unfortunately, was lamed in the fight, and I had to leave him at an inn near the Mallory border. I tried to borrow a horse, but there were none available. The innkeeper tried to get me to take one of his nags, but it was hardly fit for a noble. It was barely able to carry an underfed peasant child. So I walked. Arriving on foot isn't as embarrassing as arriving on an animal fit for the glue factory."
Was he incapable of answering a question with just yes or no? "Well, you didn't need to risk another horse being injured, of course." I glanced at his feet. No way he walked very far in those shoes.
"Indeed." He studied my clothes as well and smiled, probably concluding that I didn't look much like a hero. "I would be happy to give you a lesson in swordsmanship. I'm sure I have a lot of tricks that a woman would find useful in a fight." Once again, his smile didn't reach his eyes.
I bet you do, I thought. Taking a deep breath, I smiled. "It would be a honor. Let me know when you are available." Available for me to dump you on your fancy-pants butt.
I thought we might come to a clash of blades right there, but our staring match was interrupted by Geoff's arrival. "Lyla, I've been looking for you," he said. He made a short bow to Perry. "Perhaps you are busy with my lord Goodhaven. Shall I find you later?"
"We had just finished our conversation. I'm thirsty. How about a glass of cold ale? Goodhaven, I'll see you at dinner." I walked away without bowing. I had the feeling a target had been drawn on my back, but I resisted the urge to turn around.